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Alexandra

Atonement

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Nothing to say about it yet. Just wanted to open a thread to encourage people to post about this book.

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I can't stop talking about this book, even a year after reading it and worry that I've become something of an "Atonement" bore! :)

There's something just so true about this book. I found the characters and their relationships so dead-on believable, that even as the amazing plot unfolded, with all its twists and coincidences, I never once thought: No way! And it is a dazzling story: A young girl mistakenly interprets something that happens during a family gathering, to tragic consequences. It's set in England, beginning in the time between the two world wars, and it manages to tell the big story of that era through the prism of this one family's experiences.

For anyone who has read the book, I'd love to hear what you thought of the ending. (I won't reveal the ending, in case anyone is midstream or is thinking of picking it up, so sorry for the following obliqueness...) I think there were reviewers who felt betrayed by how it ended, but I thought it was amazing -- heartbreaking, and yet totally in keeping with the book's sensibililty. I felt it really captured how we organize our own realities, and, in fact, that's the only way to survive the vagaries of life, by writing your own ending.

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Thanks for that, Scoop. This was on my last summer's summer reading list -- and I never got to it. Next week, next week....I actually have three almost clear weeks, and I'm gonna read!

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I found this to be a departure from earlier books of McEwan's that I've read. He hasn't manifested much interest in the childhoods of his characters – as far as he's concerned, they don't seem to have any. So I was surprised and interested that he chose a child as protagonist. (There are references to Jane Austen, – there is an epigraph from Northanger Abbey, and the first section of the book takes place at a country house, where amateur theatricals are planned, but don't come off, as in Mansfield Park.) I was also reminded of other works – at first I thought, "Ah, The Go-Between meets The Children's Hour.")

I can see why McEwen thought he needed the plot twist at the end – imposing a neat fiction on messy reality is what got Briony into difficulties in the first place, and it also gives the novel's title its meaning ("Some bloody atonement, Briony," I imagine the unfortunate Robbie muttering out in the ozone somewhere). But I also think he might have done better without it. He's already made the point, and the ending is a trifle DuMaurier, not really worthy of him. I agree with you, scoop, that McEwan is saying, in part, that we organize our reality, but I don't think he's also saying that's a good thing.

The account of Dunkirk is virtuoso stuff.

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I really liked the layers-within-layers aspect (gosh, it's so hard to say what I mean without giving away plot!). It does make one contemplate the nature of reality.

I agree, dirac, that the end is more twisty than it needs to be -- but, on the other hand, I did miss the subtle indication at the very end of the next-to-last chapter, so maybe the hammer-them-over-the-head approach is useful for dolts like me. But I like to be shown, not told (I've never forgiven Charles Dickens for spoiling the opening image in "A Tale of Two Cities" by telling us pointblank, "The wine is a metaphor for blood." "I GOT that!" I keep wanting to shout at him.)

On to Briony: Does merely telling the truth, after having told a lie, constitute atonement? What's the line between assuageing one's guilt and atoning?

And finally: I recall thinking, as I read it, that a certain scene felt different, less real, than others -- almost dreamlike. Those who have finished the book will, I hope, guess the scene to which I refer. Did the quality of the writing, the voice, actually change at that point?

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Really good points about the nature of atonement in "Atonement" that hadn't occured to me when I read it. There really ISN'T much atonement, is there, on Briony's part. I wonder if that's McEwan's point, that atonement doesn't really exist? Hmmm. :unsure: Now I'm interested in reading some of his previous works -- any recommendations? "Amsterdam?"

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When can we talk about the ending? I have a question.

Giannina

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I still haven't read it, unfortunately. The book is over a year old, though. Why not post your question and put SPOILER in the subject line? (That's internetspeak, I've learned, for people who are on the East Coast and want to post the results of a football game, an election, or Big Brother and want to warn West Coasters not to read the post if they don't want to know.)

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SPOILER! (Is that what you mean, Alexandra?) Don't read this if you don't want to know about the ending of this book.

Actually, you're not going to learn much here because I'm not sure about the ending of the book myself. That's my question. Is the ending written in the final chapter titled "London 1999" the ending? Or is the ending in the chapter before that the ending? And why is the end of that chapter also labeled "London, 1999"? Or is neither the ending? I think I'm too simple minded to get these plots; give me non-fiction and less confusion. Go Seabiscuit!

Giannina

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I finished this a few weeks ago and found dirac's reference to this discussion on another McEwan thread.

I think the section "London 1999" is an epilogue, because of the way it is set off from all that came before. Other sections are Part One (with numbered chapters), and unchaptered Parts Two and Three.

Alexandra, have you read it yet?

:shhh: S P O I L E R

The adult Briony intends to atone but can't muster the nerve or humility when she has the opportunity. And then there was never another opportunity. The final coup (in London 1999) consigns her to a purgatory on earth. A lot of injustice all around.

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Now I'm interested in reading some of [McEwan's] previous works -- any recommendations? "Amsterdam?"

Amsterdam is a relatively minor work, methinks. (Weird title, too :dunno: )

Really good McEwan novels are Enduring Love (soon coming to a theatre near you) and the recent Saturday, which 'handles' 9 / 11 in a brilliant, understated way.

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Glad to see this thread is still alive, in time for the latest McEwan: Saturday. Gotten mixed reviews so far as I can tell, but I enjoyed the excerpt that the New Yorker ran last year. He really captures that sense of menace and forboding that seems to have descended on the world since the war in Iraq....

I did go back and read Amsterdam, and, you're right Herman, I was surprised at how slight it was compared to Atonement....

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scoop, I started a separate thread for "Saturday," but feel free to post on this one if you like. Carbro, thank you for pulling this thread up. I ought to have done it myself when I referred back to it.

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