Briony Tallis has committed a crime, a crime against an old friend and a best friend, a crime which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.
Robbie Turner has realised something, something that was turn his world upside down and possible end it in a day. Cecilia Tallis has realised the same thing, gains same punishment which she will have to live with; for as long as she shall live.
Three lives, interwoven, broken and reliant on each other, Atonement explores shame and forgiveness, love and war and the truth of self.
I have had Atonement on loan from the library for four months, since September, and have renewed it from that time. Oh, how I wish I had read it earlier.
This book is full of description, but not the boring type such as in The Winter Ghosts, but the type that makes you ravenous for more, your eyes eating the words and a lip being gnawed upon as you flick the page, unable to stop. It’s the type of description where you are watching the action, but, nevertheless, can feel the sting of the nettles or the humid air sweating your skin.
Let’s start with the characters, beginning with Briony Tallis, the one who causes the events to rickochet into the turmoil we are left with. I hated her, absolutely hated her. And yet, I saw myself in her; the writer who doesn’t believe she is any good, the migraine plagued mother (not any more, thank goodness. You go, Botox), the adored sibling(s). But that doesn’t mean I disliked her any less. She is silly, to say the least: thinks she knows exactly what she is doing, all because she read an adult word in an adult letter and the imagination spiraled out of control. I hated her for what she did and for what she didn’t do at the time. And, whilst some people might think she atoned for her actions, I don’t. I know exactly what it is like to do something unforgivable, and I know that some actions can’t be repented.
Robbie Turner was my sweet heart. I loved him to pieces, sobbed my heart out, not only in the book but in the film, and this may have fuelled my anger at Briony. Robbie’s crime was loving, that and that alone. He was catapulted into a world he should never have seen, and war clearly takes its toll on anyone, let alone a boy so young and lost.
Cecilia Tallis wasn’t completely to my liking, but didn’t completely turn me off. I preferred her in the book as opposed to the film, but her romance with Robbie was perfect: “Come back, Robbie. Come back to me.”
Other supporting characters gave me a mixture of love and hate, such as Mrs Tallis (in the beginning) opposed to Paul Marshall. However, what I have to say for McEwan is that all the characters were like living, breathing people, 3D lives and 3D personalities.
Onto the story, which was laughable in places and tearful in others. Atonement is told in three parts: part one has chapters and is told from the point of view of different characters, in events leading up to the crimes. Part two focusses on Robbie in France. And part three goes back to Briony, years later. There is also a kind of epilogue at the end (which, by the way, practically ripped my heart from my socket).
The story was heartbreaking but beautiful and I really, truly loved it. My only wish was that the ending had been different, and if you read it you will hopefully understand what I mean!
I would definitely recommend this book, and I would even go as a far as saying that Atonement is up in my list of top 5 favourite books this year, perhaps even ever. I definitely have to get my own copy, so I can note the pages I adore; and I will try my hardest to make sure that isn’t the entire book.
One of my favourite quotes from Atonement comes from Part Two, page 209 if you have the hardback pictured, in which Robbie recollects a letter from Cecilia. Here it is:
I’m honestly happy with my new life and my new friends. I feel I can breathe now. Most of all, I have you to live for. Realistically, there had to be a choice – you or them. How could it be both? I’ve never had a moment’s doubt. I love you. I believe in you completely. You are my dearest one, my reason for life. Cee.
And another, on page 213, reads:
You’re in my thoughts ever minute. I love you. I’ll wait for you. Come back. Cee.
Whilst these quotes make it seem to be a gushy romance, Atonement is actually be very dark in places, and there are parts which are not for the faint-hearted. Romance isn’t the start or the end of anything; other factors are always at play. And it’s these other factors that give the novel it’s life and ventilation.