Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Okay, so I don't have time to do a plot synopsis, and it's been awhile since I read the book, but here is a shortcut if you haven't read it yet, but want to, or if you haven't read it, don't want to, but want to know what I think about it. If you don't read the synopsis, it's unlikely that you'll know what I'm talking about. Anyway, here it is. Credit to Wikipedia for that.
Okay, back? Good. My thoughts:
When I finished the novel, I thought WTF? Seriously?
Atonement basically sets some conflicting emotions on edge. The first three parts are supposed to be Briony's somewhat fictionalized account of a crime she provided false testimony for as a child. The reader can tell that Robbie was not the perpetrator, even before Briony begins to doubt herself, and what she saw. The parts are written from the perspectives of Briony, the younger sister, Cecilia, the older sister, and Robbie Turner, the alleged criminal. Ultimately, I would rate it three out of five stars. It is a good book to puzzle over, but it's not one I will be recommending five years from now.
Throughout the book, the reader is led to believe that several crimes occurred: The rape of the cousin, Lola, and Briony's false testimony to her witnessing Robbie exiting the scene of the crime. For the first part of the book, we are fairly certain that Robbie did not commit the crime, and that the hysteria that overcomes Briony is the fault of her overactive imagination, mixed with images of her sister and Robbie having sex, and Cecilia climbing into the fountain, naked and angry. Briony lacked context for these situations, so she imagined the context to be something that she was familiar with: shame. This opinion is solidified throughout the narration of Robbie during the war, and Briony;s own confessions and guilt in her narration. Years pass and Briony sees her sister and Robbie, and the novel within a novel ends with Briony setting off to make things right by meeting her sister and Robbie's demands (writing a letter to get Robbie excused, explaining the situation to her parents, ect.), and Cecilia and Robbie standing together, united after years of longing.
The book ends with Briony discussing the novel she had just written about her own atonement. However, this epilogue, for lack of a better word leaves the reader questioning whether the story was actually true. She discusses her letters from Mr. Nettle, who was represented as a corporal, a friend of Robbie's during the war. These letters are correcting Briony on her accuracy about the various aspects of war that she addressed when writing from Robbie's perspective. She dismisses his corrections with "If I was concerned about facts, I would have written an entirely different novel," yet later she confesses that the account was entirely true, and that it could not be published because of the libelous things she wrote about Lola, and the actual rapist, Paul Marshall, whom Lola married. The whole epilogue is consistent with what she wrote in her novel, however, in the last paragraph, she confesses that she fictionalized the deaths of Robbie and her sister, that the two never reunited, ect. So, even in her journal, she is still living in the whimsical world, nor revealing the truth, and that leaves the reader to question, as was her intention, what actually happened.