[Reading] ➿ Atonement Author Ian McEwan – Dolove.info
Ian McEwan S Symphonic Novel Of Love And War, Childhood And Class, Guilt And Forgiveness Provides All The Satisfaction Of A Brilliant Narrative And The Provocation We Have Come To Expect From This Master Of English ProseOn A Hot Summer Day In , Thirteen Year Old Briony Tallis Witnesses The Flirtation Between Her Older Sister, Cecilia, And Robbie Turner, The Son Of A Servant But Briony S Incomplete Grasp Of Adult Motives And Her Precocious Imagination Bring About A Crime That Will Change All Their Lives, A Crime Whose Repercussions Atonement Follows Through The Chaos And Carnage Of World War II And Into The Close Of The Twentieth Century This is where a 2.5 star rating would be ideal I am extremely ambivalent about this novel first the pluses the writing is gorgeous McEwan has some of the best prose out there Every line has meat to it, nothing is throwaway, and every visual is so vivid that the reader is transported to a specific time and place Secondly, what everyone praises the novel for , the commentary McEwan is making about the novel itself the fact that it is written, that characters and plots are manipulated by the author, and how a real character emerges eventually while at the same a written story exists too This is very difficult to write about without revealing anything about the plot, but as one reads the novel, it becomes clear what McEwan is trying to do Finally, the references to other literature including some of the best novels Clarissa, Lolita and novelists Elizabeth Bowen is directly mentioned, Henry Green and Virginia Woolf are obvious influences is fluid, never forced, and is done to showcase a love of literature At the same time, there are downsides to McEwan s endeavor how to write a novel that is commenting on its obvious falsity its construction as fiction , while at the same time trying to convey reality This is perhaps an impossible task, and I m left with the nagging feeling that the novel wants to have its cake and eat it too The characters and situations are so obviously phony that it becomes distracting in the first part of the story I was drawn in by the fantastic writing, but then found myself wanting to hurl the novel across the room at some of the ridiculous choices by both the characters and the novelist Namely 1 The main plot twist makes little realistic sense Absolutely zero would fly in a mystery novel let alone real life 2 The characters in the first part are boring aristocrats who we don t care about check out a Henry Green novel except in his novels, the reader continues to laugh at them, there is no attempt at emotional attachment 3 The mystery s solution is obvious to the reader before the crime even happens 4 Briony part 1 is an insufferable narrator as kid narrators, To Kill a Mockingbird excluded, so often are 5 The novelist s choice to name a sexually, precocious teenager Lola too obvious a reference But these choices are meant to be ridiculous reality is only supposed to set in in the epilogue At the same time, I marveled at how real parts 2 Robbie at war and 3 Briony as a nurse some of the hospital scenes are the best I ve ever read seemed to be Then the question became for me if they seemed real because of the way the scenes were written the gore again in the hospital , but could not have been real because the characters and overall plot of the Tallis family are so fake, isn t that cheating I haven t reached a conclusion yet, but something is still bugging me about the conception of it Ultimately I prefer novels that go the opposite route Paul Auster s Oracle Night for example that start out real and quickly become fake, or throw out the idea of a realistic, consistent plot entirely only in the conclusion does David Mitchell s Cloud Atlas come together , rather than the never ending is it real is it fake push and pull of Atonement. There are many reviews already of this book, and I did wonder whether the world needed any But I disagree so strongly with some of the opinions expressed that I m afraid I have to exercise my right to reply Two things in particular stand out Let me deal with the simpler one first Some people seem appalled that the author is putting the guilt for this dreadful tragedy on the shoulders of a young girl She didn t know what she was doing, they say she was too young to understand the import of her actions, and we shouldn t hold her responsible Well, it seems to me that this is completely beside the point The novel, we finally learn, has been written by the girl herself She s giving herself the blame for what happened She s evidently spent her whole life wondering why she behaved the way she did, and she still doesn t really know She s just trying to get the story as straight as she can, mainly so that she can understand it herself, and I found her efforts extremely moving If anyone is claiming that people don t behave this way, all I can say is that their view of human nature is so different from mine that it ll be hard to have a meaningful conversation on the subject So now the second and controversial part Many reviewers dislike the post modernist aspects They complain that McEwan is taking a perverse pleasure in tricking the reader into a view of the story which is finally revealed as incorrect that he s playing the unreliable narrator card out of sheer willfulness Again, I completely disagree I don t think these aspects of the book are irrelevant or peripheral I think they re at the very core of it, and are what make it a great piece of literature McEwan shows us a girl who becomes an author precisely because she wants to expiate the dreadful feelings of guilt she has suffered all her life He lets her explain how it happened, in what we eventually discover is a book within a book And the truly awful thing is that she can t do it She cops out with a fake happy ending, because she still can t face what she did.I don t think this is a trick I think he s saying something about the very nature of writing Many, many writers are like Briony They write to absolve themselves of their guilt, but in the end they don t say what they want to say It s too horrible to write down They skirt around the issues, and end up presenting them in a favourable light If they re lucky, they may finally reach an age when they are so far removed from what happened that they can tell the story straight This is what Briony does in the postscript, and I don t find it far fetched To take just one example, the first I happen to think of, look at Marguerite Duras All her life, she kept thinking about her first love affair, and it coloured most of what she wrote It was only when she was nearly 70 that she could set it down as L Amant.Before the events of the fountain, Briony was indeed just a little girl all she could write was the amusingly mediocre Arabella Afterwards, she had something that was worth saying, though it took a long time to figure out how to do that When she d completed her task, she was able to get back to the one she was engaged in when she was interrupted I love the circular structure, which ends with Arabella being staged 60 years late Of the many infuriating changes in the movie version, I think I was most annoyed by the removal of this key scene.Wood burns, observes Monty Python s logician, as he gives an example of an incorrect syllogism therefore, all that burns is wood Similarly, the fact that much trickery is post modern does not imply that all post modernism is trickery This is a great and heart felt novel. It s like To Kill A Mockingbird Only, instead of a flawed but relatable protagonist, we have a protagonist vilified beyond all reason Instead of a persecuted minority, we have a horny young man And instead of Atticus Finch, we haveIan McEwan And never, in the history of literature, has anyone worked quite this hard to invalidate the accusatory gaze of young girls.The sinner here is young Briony And her sin is pride We see her exposed to sexist and obscene language, violent sex, and a rape all in one day And why did she she make such a fuss Well, according to McEwan, it s because she s the worst thing in the world a little girl with little girl problems who simply can t understand the grownup world Grownup, in this context, refers almost exclusively to the pursuit of id impulses Everything the poor girl does is made to seem somehow insidious the way she lines up her toys, the way she plays pretend, the way her own mind controls her own hand The power But who are McEwan s martyrs you query Where there s heavy handed allegory, there are bound to be martyrs, you say.Ah That would be Robbie and Cecilia You see, Robbie and Cecilia s sin is lust, the one and only sin that must always be defended in literature, the sin McEwan is apparently most defensive about Naturally, some of that lust is projected onto the young girl reverse moralists are so hypocritical but it s Robbie and Cecilia who are truly wronged Indeed, no fictional character has been this wronged by the moral majority since Jude the Obscure But even Thomas Hardy had the presence of mind not to shrilly condemn young girls McEwan undermined his point in overstating it.In McEwan s universe, the only real sin is being too uptight or sheltered No counterpoint is offered Nor is there any real understanding of sexual trauma and its behavioral manifestations No sexual history is provided the characters, certainly nothing to account for the behavior in evidence To Kill a Mockingbird, mentioned earlier, does provide that history McEwan s characters are born the day we meet themand only to serve his argument.In short, this is a defensive book It s nothing than a defensive book Chance doesn t work this way Trauma doesn t work this way Sexuality doesn t work this way Nothing works this way.One gets the distinct impression that McEwan has projected his own narcissism and guilt onto one character the accuser and his actual misdeeds onto another the unjustly persecuted Because his aims are self indulgent, he doesn t accomplish much beyond this smug reversal It never quite makes for a cohesive whole Nearly, though In a foreshadowing of later events, everyone fusses over a cousin who says she has been badly bruised by her two brothers When the unjustly maligned little boys run away, it s predicted that the little drama queen will somehow find a way to regain the spotlight She doesin getting raped We never learn her thoughts or feelings about this incident, and her rapist is given a nebulous presence, at best, in the novel.Throughout the story, the victim is portrayed as a snob She s so snobby, in fact, that she marries her rapistin the name of monogamy Yes, Ian, we see what you did there Significantly, Cecilia too is portrayed as a snobuntil she puts out.To summarize Briony is the sort of uppity prig who accuses good men like Ian McEwan Robbie of being bad men.As we can clearly see, there are far worse men See Oh, the victim Complicit Moving onAnd Cecilia just needed a good fIt s a shame, because the prose, itself, is good The premise had a lot of potential for nuance and ambiguity But McEwan forgoes any subtlety in his tireless crusade againstlittle girls Little girls who tell on men Little girls whose motives and perceptions simply can t be trusted.And all to make some asinine declaration about true art In the end, we find that Briony is, herself, the narrator of this tale and her own literary career allows McEwan to covertly praise his own writing, so reminiscent of Woolf in his opinion Um, no, Ian Woolf was a good writer Is he serious Is he trying to be a pompous ass Was this an Andy Kaufman bit all along Oh, also War is bad I make that an aside, because the actual causes, ramifications, and atrocities of war are clearly less important to McEwan than his own pen But it s war that truly makes a man of you If only I were a man and could understand the real world instead of writing fairy storiesplaying with my miniaturesand stripping for the neighbor boys all day.Something tells me McEwan has a long and studied history of reframing But the fact remains If it s not cohesive, it s not true.This is cleverness Not truth. In World War II England, 13 year old Briony Tallis misinterprets her older sister s love affair with their family s gardener to be something much worse than what it is Her innocence and partial understanding of the world begins a chain of events that tears the family apart and alters the course of the rest of the girl s life.Sounds a little dry, right Wrong I guess I forgot to mention that the book was written by Ian McEwan, the king of uncomfortable moments, weird sex stuff, the rotating third person close perspective, and I ll say it writing about the human psyche While I ve found some of his earlier books to be a little too uncomfortable or, rather, too uncomfortable without good reason or a little too sexually deviant again, in the way that it seemed for shock value than with a reason , this was a freaking great book.I think the one thing that makes this book so wonderful is McEwan s eerily accurate understanding of how a 13 year old girl s mind works her understanding of the world and her emotional reaction to it Briony is trapped between childhood and adulthood She s old enough to recognize the dark and startling behind the scenes facets of her proper British family s life, but not old enough to properly analyze or judge them She s old enough to impose her will and her ideas on others, but not wise enough to know when to act or when to question herself It s a frustrating and fascination and uncomfortable time, and he has it down pat.McEwan also experiments with structure in ways that are truly innovative and new without being gimmicky Briony is an aspiring writer who grows and develops her style throughout the 60 years that the novel covers, and McEwan s novel mirrors her literary growth Part One of the story is extremely traditional broken into chapters, with a clear rotation of perspectives and a uniform chronology Parts Two and Three are much modern the story, which switches gears to follow the gardener into WWII France and Briony to her experiences as a nurse in London, loses structure and fluidity and uses modern storytelling techniques Finally, the last section is utterly contemporary the story becomes even abstract, with unreliable narrators and conceptual writing favored over simple narrative.And yet these games with structure and story and perspective in no way take your focus from the story and the characters Instead, they add to the experience of watching the main character grow and develop.If the book suffers from anything, it might be a little slow in some places and move too fast in others Since McEwan tends to be very thorough when it comes to interior thought, the story often slows down a bit than it should so that he can explain how every single person felt about a certain moment in time although the story spans 60 years, the first 200 pages span a single afternoon and evening The slow story a necessary evil, though, if we want to keep the detailed character studies in place And we do And the action filled second half of the book, which covers the British retreat from the Germans in 1940 and the over capacity army hospitals of London, makes up for the sometimes austere and rigorous first half It just takes a while to get the story rolling.