A Girl Who Reads: Atonement

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

First things first, this title. It was inspired by this quote in my last post. As I said there, I think it embodies everything about me so exquisitely and I also think it's the perfect title for a series about book reviews.

Also, Blogtember prompts us to  review a book, place or product today, making this a "two-birds-one-stone" situation as I planned to upload this review this week anyway.

So, I have to preface this by disclosing a pretty embarrassing fact: I've been reading, or rather attempting to read, this book since December 2010. Yes, that's right - 2010. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the New York Library on 10th Street thinks I stole it and has assessed charges on my account (Not that I would know, I haven't checked out a library book since I found a crusty something in the binding of Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts. But that's a story for another day.). In my defense, I was busy, you know, trying to survive law school and buried under dozens of lengthly, although entertaining, Scalia dissents. Or maybe I just got hung up on rereading the steamy sex scene circa chapter 11 (I'm getting ahead of myself!). Also, I generally don't like watching a movie adaption of a book until I've read the novel, so I'll do a mini recap of the movie.

With all of that said, I'm probably the last person left on the literate planet to read this book, but I write this review anyway, in the possibility that there is some poor soul like me, who hasn't been able to pick up a real book for years. 


Title: Atonement

Author: Ian McEwan

Publication: Anchor Books 2001

Major Characters: Briony Tallis, Cecilia Tallis, Robbie Turner

Main Plot: At the age of 13, Briony fashions herself a writer but one evening, her imagination causes a series of misfortunes, warping an innocent encounter into a heinous event and forever changing the lives of everyone it touches.

Favorite Line(s):
"A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended."
"Now and then, an inch below the water's surface, the muscles of his stomach tightened involuntarily as he recalled another detail. A drop of water on her upper arm. Wet. An embroidered flower, a simple daisy, sewn between the cups of her bra. Her breasts wide apart and small. On her back, a mole half covered by a strap. When she climbed out of the pond a glimpse of the triangular darkness her knickers were supposed to conceal. Wet. He saw it, he made himself see it again. The way her pelvic bones stretched the material clear of the skin, the deep curve of her waist, her startling whiteness. When she reached for her skirt, a carelessly raised foot revealed a patch of soil on each pad of her sweetly diminished toes. Another mole the size of a farthing on her thigh and something purplish on her calf - a strawberry mark, a scar. Not blemishes. Adornments."

My Rating

Although it took me nearly 3 years to read it, Atonement was a really easy and enjoyable read once I actually picked it up. I probably sat down to read it 5-6 times, devouring 50 pages at a time. McEwan's prose is absolutely breathtaking. I found it difficult to choose my favorite lines because the detailed way it which he describes events, scenes and people is so beautiful. The characters are flawed, some even greatly flawed, and it pulls the reader into the story deeper. I cried nearly half a dozen times. The reader chastises the characters for their decisions yet roots for them all the while. Briony's vivid imagination, which is usually her greatest asset, proves to be quite the curse when she witnesses an interaction between her sister Cecilia and Robbie, the son of the family's servant, and then conjures a story about it - a story that changes everyone's lives. While the opening of the novel covers this event during the summer of 1935, the middle (second and third parts) describes to the lives of our characters during World War II, and the conclusion leaps forward to 1999.

For the first time, I don't believe that too much was lost in translation regarding the film adaptation. Delicate scenes were portrayed with care yet incredible accuracy, at least based on how I thought of them. The sex (love-making) scene - whew! Go check that out here if you dare. I thought it was cast perfectly. My only criticism would be that the desire to remain true to the book produced a great interpretation of the first part of the story, but left something to be desired for the rest. And although there are pretty striking scenes throughout, there was something about the adaptation of the second part that made it less dramatic than the novel.

When I closed the book, I felt uneasy and a bit shaken, because it's the kind of book that affects you. From the first page until the turn of the last, Atonement questions the manner in which we interact with each other, analyzes how both actions and inactions can shape our future, determines whether an apology has a shelf-life, and leaves us questioning "in whom can we trust?"


  1. Sounds amazing! Definitely adding it to my to-read list. I LOVE the quote!

  2. Sadly, I haven't read this book either. I remember seeing the trailer whenever the movie came out and I love Kiera Knightley AND James McAvoy. But, I do agree that books are greater than movies. Maybe I will read this one soon. Great review!

  3. wow! good one! I've seen the film, but never had a chance to read a book.
    Now I'm tempted! :)
    Thanks for sharing it! Great review!


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