Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Book: Atonement

I had big expectations when I picked up this book. I'd heard good things and I knew the movie was out, so I expected a lot. I am still puzzling this book over in my head, just because the ending is frusterating. Granted, I was warned by the narrator herself what I could expect, but I still felt a little blindsighted at the end. I don't want to say too much to keep from giving anything away.

Basically, Briony is a spoiled, imaginative young girl who sees something her sister does one day and blows it completely out of proportion. Her inability to understand the event she saw leads her to make conclusions about something she doesn't see which effects her life, her sister's life, and her sister's boyfriend forever. There were moments in reading this book, when I KNEW where it was going, that I felt unsure I could go on reading it. The tortuous knowledge of what would happen just overwhelmed me. But I took sneak peeks ahead every few pages to assure myself it would be okay, and I went on reading.

I loved the word choices that Ian McEwan used throughout the book. I was in the habit of carrying a pen with me while reading this, and I tried to underline the words that related back the the title, Atonement; words like sacrifice, sin, sacrament, forgiveness. I enjoyed finding those references back to this extremely symbolic word (I know I'm being vague, but I don't have the book with me today; sorry!). I tried to keep thinking while I read about what atonement means. In order to atone, there has to be a sin. On the surface, it would appear that the atoning should have been performed by Briony, but it so happens she isn't the only sinner. Her betrayal is merely the catalyst that will bring everyone else in the book's sins forward. Had she not interpreted things the way she did, most of the characters could have walked away from the event unscathed. My expectations of how her atonement would come about were completely different than the reality.

Another thing that stuck out to me was what the author chose to detail, and what he did not. The main event in the book is told as almost an afterthought. It may only get 2 or 3 paragraphs, tops. But each moment that leads up to the climax is so thoroughly detailed. You know each characters thoughts, hopes, fears; what they wore, why they wore it, what they dreamed about before they started getting dressed. It was a little like watching a trainwreck in slow motion where each second lasts an hour, only to miss the actual wreck and later be told that some people died, others went to the hospital and later got out. How can you detail every moment leading up, and then gloss over the crux of the story? I think it was an interesting study in narrative, and it makes me respect McEwan more, and forgive him for the ending.

Has anyone seen the movie yet? I've meant to rent it each of the past 2 weekends, but I have yet to get it. I really want to see what they do with it, and if any of the elements that I appreciated in the book get included in the movie.


Lucy said...

I loved this book. It was one that stuck with me for a long time afterwards, mostly for the same reasons you mentioned. McEwans use of the word Atonement, and all the weight that word carries, told the larger moral which is that our actions have lasting consequences. Ones that can't always be undone or fixed. While the story is tragic, it is so beautifully told that I regard it as one of my favorite books from last year.

I JUST watched the movie a few days ago. Whoever wrote the screenplay did such an amazing job. It's not even that the movie follows the book so closely but that the scenes mirror the images I had in my head as well. It's well done.

This is a great book review. You know how I'm feeling. Here's my big, loud "sigh".

Amy Sorensen said...

Why didn't I comment on this when I read it first? Anyway. I'm writing the book club handbook for this (at the library) and your review gave me some great fodder. Thanks!!!