Atonement by Ian McEwan is becoming a movie, and my Aunt Joanne was curious if I’d like it because she wasn’t so sure. So I figured I would read it. It was a bit of a roller-coaster, I have to admit. I really hated, HATED, parts of this book. And just when I was so frustrated I was tempted to quit, there would be a portion I loved.
The premise is semi-complicated. The 13-year old main character Briony wrongly accuses her sister’s love of a crime. By doing so she condemns her life as well as all the lives of those near her to paths they would never have taken otherwise. I suppose the idea is that one decision can impact the entire future of everyone it touches.
Part One of Atonement is building up to this accusation, and the actual crime itself. It is hopelessly dull and long winded. I don’t know what was keeping McEwan from spitting out what he wanted to say, but dear God Part One was awful. Briony is a ridiculous character, who thinks in long, poetic sentences and is subject to whimsical fantasies. I kept screaming “No One Thinks Like This!” It was like Romantic-period literature with the leaves, and the ponds, and the love, and the blah blah blah. And when Briony wrongly accuses the poor young man, you want to kick her for being so stupid!
Part Two is partially redeeming. It is now several years later and in the midst of World War II. The young man who was accused of the crime, Robbie, is out of prison, and is in France. The war is going poorly, and he is heading for the coast in retreat. All he can think about is getting back to his love, Cecilia, Briony’s older sister. Cecilia believes in his innocence, and has cut ties with her family. The war aspect is interesting, and Robbie is much more realistic and less frustrating that Briony.
Part Three is wonderful! At this point I’m starting to think this may be a good book after all. Briony is now an adult working as a nurse, treating wounded soldiers and realizing the mistakes she made as a child. I found the details about the WWII hospital and the nurses’ duties fascinating. And finally Briony is trying to redeem herself, and asking forgiveness of her family.
And then the conclusion. Big twist, and lets just say I’m pissed. I was so disappointed after the book improved so much! So overall, the book has highlights, but it definitely was not good. A pitiful main character, and long-winded, pointless sentences bring this novel down.