Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Review of Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Atonement By Ian McEwan On a sunny day on an English country estate shortly before WWII, the Tallis family’s youngest child, thirteen-year-old Briony, glimpse four confusing events: a moment’s flirtation between her older sister and Robbie, the cleaning lady’s son; a crude love note; a passionate lovemaking scene between the same sister and Robbie; and in the dark of night, the rape of her fifteen-year-old cousin. Briony’s incomplete grasp of each of these situations stir her precocious imagination into committing a crime that will transform each of their lives. The repercussions of her crime cause Briony to seek atonement throughout the turmoil and carnage of the fall of Dunkirk, the Blitz of London, and into the close of the twentieth century. Does she finally achieve it? You must be the judge.

This novel has won the NY Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the LA Times Book Prize, and deservedly so.
Lush detail, lavish descriptions, McEwan pulls you into his world until you are fully engaged, smelling the flowers, feeling your cotton shirt sticking to your skin on a hot summer day, hearing the singsong rustle of oak leaves. The characters are real, passionate, persuasive. The plot is a tightly organized storyline of family life that begins to unravel, then must suffer the horrors of war, both on the battlefield and also in Blitz torn London.

With this book, you’ll want to find a quiet spot in the garden, with no interruptions, and let yourself be lost in its precisely controlled style and voice. It is not an easy read, the pacing is sometimes glacial -- McEwan could easily have snipped fifty pages of description from the story without it being missed -- but don’t let that stop you. Though the journey is sometimes slow, the destination is well worth the time spent. This is the finest novel I’ve read in years. Not since Cunningham’s The Hours, has a story gripped me like this one, or left me so stunned.

If you enjoy lavish prose, credible characters, and well constructed plots, do yourself a huge favor: don’t see the movie before you read the book.

No comments: