I never had any idea about this book when I decided to read it. All I knew is that it has gained stellar ratings from the people in my book club. So when several buddies and I did a read along, I didn’t have any expectations except that I was prepared to like it.
Atonement is a story of Briony Tallis whose mistake she made as a child caused repercussions that affected her relations with her family and projected up to the time of war and beyond. It is divided into four chapters with the first chapter portraying the 13 year-old Briony and her overactive imagination. The second part is about Robbie Turner several years after, as a soldier in World War II while the third part is about Briony, now 18 years old and a student nurse. The Epilogue is set in the year 1999 with Briony now a successful novelist.
I did not only like Atonement — I loved it. It was beautifully written, in fact, it was the prose that really first caught my attention. It is no wonder that Ian McEwan has gained such a reputation as a wonderful writer among the reviews I’ve read in Goodreads. And then of course there’s the extraordinary plot. I really loved how the book depicts a single scene through different perspectives and how these POVs would affect the action of each of the characters involved. And since I am now talking about characters, it is also but fitting to commend the depth of character that Ian McEwan has given for each of the major characters. Briony as the source of all the controversy is an entirely believable character. She is a paradox – I want to pull her hair and hug her at the same time.
The first part actually had me giggling over the apparent bratty-ness of Briony (nettle slashing, FTW!) but I wasn’t prepared for the succeeding turn of events. The war part in the story made my stomach turn and my eyes teary, and it was during this part that I have become aware that this book is going to break my heart. And broke my heart, it definitely did. I was blown away by the ending! I had a hang-over after I was done, and it didn’t help that I watched the movie version right afterwards. Did I not say I had zero expectations and ideas about the book before I read it? So you can just imagine my surprise at the sudden turn of events – and mood. The last time I felt this kind of heartbreak was when I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and it was then when I said that I felt my soul groaning deep inside me. Until now, when I think of these two books, my soul still groans.
As what I’ve said in the buddy reading thread, it is not always that I find a book where I loved both the prose and the plot. And for this, I am adding another book to my favorites shelf.