Shortlisted for the Booker in 2001, I will never understand how it did not win. In 2010, Time Magazine listed it as one of the top 100 English language novels since 1923.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is always interesting coming back to a book you read many years ago, with the echoes of the emotions you felt as you finished it still resonating in your heart as you pick up the book once more. The journey of the re-read is even more interesting when the film adaptation of the book is one of your favourite films – if not your absolute favourite film. So it was with high expectations that I turned the first page.
The book begins with the beginnings of a play – a fitting metaphor, for the whole of the book is a work of theatre – a distraction to take you away from the real world of the author, and into the world of her imagination.
McEwan’s writing is masterful, and the way in which he hints at what he is doing throughout the book, while at the same time keeping everything close to his chest is a masterclass in subtlety for the ambitious novelist. There are three points of view, but as we are told as the novel reaches its devastating conclusion, the author is God. As such, everything is seen through the lens of that omnipotence, each heart-breaking detail scoured onto the page because it is what the author wants the reader to see.
I sobbed as I read this book. It was as though I was reading it for the first time. It has a rawness in it, characters that you cannot help but remember. And we remember that there is no justice, there is only judgment. There was a child, who saw something that she did not understand, who needed a sexual awakening of her own to fully realise the extent of the horror of her actions. And the whole of her misunderstanding becomes a metaphor for the unreliability of the point of view. Briony tells us that plots and characters no longer matter. What matters is to enter a mind, and to show it at work – or being worked on.
What is being worked on, in this book, is the mind of the reader. This book is a marvel.
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