Literary prose gently refined yet sharply detailed encompasses Ian McEwan’s writing in his novel Atonement. The reader is pulled in by McEwan’s precise account of fact vs. fiction, truth vs. fabrication. In a story where love is skewed and twisted from the perspective of a thirteen-year old girl, McEwan brings to attention the dangers of imagination when moral exactness is attenuated by perception. McEwan’s writing feels nothing short but traditional, yet he definitely brings his own unique style to create a literary piece that could be viewed as a stand alone.
Setting the scene in World War II England, Briony Tallis often runs wild with her imagination as she does her writing and stories. At the the young age of thirteen years old, Briony often thought of herself as much older then her “audience.” McEwan makes her as meticulous as himself-pays close to detail and exact in their work. It is the moral compass that Briony follows that causes her to fall short.
There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.
Briony’s downfall in being principled begins when she sees her sister Cecilia and the gardener Robbie Turner indulge in sexual play which misconstrues in Briony’s mind as something much more vulgar. Further in the day, their cousin Lola is raped by a man unseen to her eyes, which leads Briony to make a conclusion as to who the culprit is. This assumption criminalizes Robbie to a life of war and separates the two budding lovers indefinitely. Briony/McEwan mesh as one writer in the novel both with a moral agenda. McEwan explores the consequences when childhood vision meets adulthood. Briony’s idea of love and what it means to be an adult deteriorates before her eyes as she realizes based on her moral standard, they do not align. Briony struggles with the world and the constant need to be coddled-seeking affirmation from all those around her. Her attempt to be mature is overshadowed by her sophomore behavior.The novel, broken into four parts, take us through the mental journey and discovery of Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony. McEwan creates a beautiful work of literature that explores the depths of solitude, adulthood, love, and war.
I had initially watched this film many years ago and fell in love with the acting itself. Atonement was well casted and the story pulled me in. Switching to the novel, I was able to recount scenes from the movie and visually translate them to the novel version. At first, the novel was a bit dull with all the constant description and fine details. It wasn’t until later I realized this was McEwan’s very point. Precision meets its match when character is flawed. Atonement is very literary and should be appreciated as fine work of writing. Although the first half of the book can thought to be monotonous, I did enjoy the second half of the novel and I was quickly pulled in with the riveting plot. However, outside of Briony, the characters didn’t have much depth and I only felt connected to the protagonist. At times I did feel that the author filled in the novel with too much rhythmic detail that I often found myself skimming the pages just to get to the main plot. Drudging through all of the descriptions is only thing that made the book unenjoyable for me. I would recommended this book to those whom are interested in fine literature (perhaps a comparison to Woolf or Austen can be drawn) or simply like historical fiction. Although it did take me a while to finish this novel, I am glad I can say I have read this one.