BOOK REVIEW: ATONEMENT By Ian McEwan
“McEwan is one of our great poets of childhood’s traumatic collision with the disillusioning world of adults” – Corey Beasley in ‘A Womb with a View’
Ian McEwan’s critically acclaimed metafictional novel Atonement follows the life of protagonist, Briony Tallis and her attempt to atone for a crime she commits as a teenager in 1935. Briony’s early realisation, at the age of 13, that all human relationships – even those of matrimony – are controlled by power, gives the novel a unique twist as we are forced to questions the narrators reliability.
Throughout the novel we see Briony’s struggle to achieve power in different circumstances be it in the importance of her writing, or being the bearer of others secrets. Although the majority of the novel is seen through the eyes of this adolescent we also see from the point of view of Robbie Turner, the maid’s educated son and lover of Cecilia Tallis, the older sister of Briony. The book replicates the styles of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, in the way it utilises the symbol of the ‘baronial-Gothic’ mansion with a false façade. It is this metaphor which we can see reflected in many of its residents.
One critical review by Laura Salisbury, in ‘Narration and neurology: Ian McEwan’s mother tongue’, describes that “For McEwan, ﬁction-making in all these cases becomes a form of kindness, something that afﬁrms the reality of human bonds against the authentically sublime indifference of cerebral matter and a material ﬁnitude in which personality and memory are ﬁnally swallowed up…”
Personally, when reading the book I found that McEwan overcomplicated aspects of it, and I disliked the excessive descriptions of ephemeral objects. Although I criticise it on the description of tangible things, McEwan’s style of describing the profound and consequential emotions of the characters is displayed subtly and entices the reader to carry on.