Book Review: Atonement by Ian McEwan

I read this book in February this year and like the series of last year’s reviews, am also late in posting this. Please excuse any change/discrepancies in tenses.

The word ‘atonement’ usually means making amends for your actions that have done wrong to a person or people around you. And when a book with this name starts off with a teenager trying to direct a play that she can show off at a family gathering, you wonder why it is named thus. It is only some tens of pages into the book that you read on, becoming horrified with each page as the story progresses and clears the contextual meaning of the title for you.

I read this book along with three other people and was so dumbstruck, shocked, and every other synonym for it, that till now, when they discuss the book, I don’t contribute anything to it. Like, how can an action of that intensity, magnitude, and import be eligible for atonement? How do you erase that, if indeed you had that on your conscience? And is Briony just an attention-seeking child? Will she atone for her sins – because that’s what they are – or will she live out her life with the weight of them?

I realize I’m just being cryptic without giving you a gist – that’s how much it has muddled my mind.

Atonement is about Briony Tallis, her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner. On the day when Briony and Cecilia’s brother Leon is visiting home, a number of things happen throughout the day that leads to a change in the lives of all three people involved. Briony watches as Cecilia strips and dives into the garden fountain as Robbie watches uncomfortably. You can guess what misinterpretation Briony is led to make. And when she walks in on the two crossing a certain boundary, she is convinced that her misinterpretation is right.

By the time dinner is digested, everything falls over and wraps around itself inextricably. Briony’s cousin Lola plays an important, yet unassuming part in Briony’s convictions and eventual decisions. And before the night ends, Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie have experienced things that they never would have imagined when they woke up that morning.

This might seem like a bad gist and it is, but Atonement is a book that will mess with your head. I’m mighty angry at Briony – she’s one of my most-hated characters of all time. Her being “just a teenager” doesn’t discount what she did and how it affected the lives of everyone involved. She didn’t have the right to be so confident about her own misleading eyes when so much else was going against what she was saying. And at this point, I don’t think I will be able to say anything without giving away everything, if I haven’t already.

This is, I agree, a novel that explores a number of emotions, including jealousy, misplaced confidence, the want to fit in and be seen as a reliable member of society, love, repentance, looking at the world as it is, regret, and a whole other gamut of emotions that can be experienced only if you read the book. While the world is big and bad, it is on a micro level that we see the actual problems. The treatment that differs from person to person. And how just admitting that one was wrong cannot actually right what one did.

I feel like I’m getting hazy and unclear with every word that I write about this book. But that’s how much of an effect it has had on me. And I really want to write a longer review, but the very thought of this book leaves me speechless and so conflicted with my own thoughts that I simply want to curl up into a ball and cry.

So I’ll leave this review here. Because you die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence. And that’s how this one ends. In the middle of a thought…

Rating: 4.25/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Amazon India

If you’d like to buy this book after reading my review, please do so by clicking my Amazon Affiliate link given below. The price remains the same for you but I get a small commission off of every purchase you make.

Here’s the link: Atonement

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