Thursday, August 9, 2007


Atonement by Ian McEwan is the sort of book that has pages of international praise inside the cover and sits on the bestseller shelves at Barnes and Noble for weeks at a time. The sort of book all the bookgroups are reading and the sort of book I generally avoid for a long time, but often wind up reading once the storm has died down. This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I'll be honest here and tell you that what finally pushed me to pick this up off of my shelf was the trailer for the film adaption coming out later this year. It looked like a film I would enjoy and I would rather have read the book first than the other way around.

Atonement is a book about misunderstandings and how people perceive things differently. In the book, a young girl, Briony misconstrued multiple situations which ultimately leads to tragedy for multiple families. Part of the misunderstanding involves a note. I am very aware of men writing about women and it struck me that the event that occurred after the intended (Cecilia) received the note would only happen in a book written by a man, sort of a male fantasy. As a woman, I find it hard to imagine most women having the same reaction Cecelia has.

I enjoyed this book and thought it very well written, but I didn't love it. I never felt emotionally connected to it except for feeling so much anger towards Briony. I was fortunate to have longer stretches of time to read this novel, and felt that was the best way to read it. I don't know if I would have gotten very far if I'd had to keep putting it down. The last section of the novel helps to explain the rest of the book and why the previous three sections are so different from one another. There is a sort of 'twist' in the ending which I have encountered in at least one other book. I did not appreciate it in that previous book (The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve in case you are wondering) however I thought it was better executed here, and I could appreciate it more.

I would still like to see the film version when it comes out and I am interested to see how it has been adapted, particularly in light of the ending.


lazy cow said...

I found myself detached from the characters too, but enjoyed the book on the whole. Much preferred one of his earlier ones: Enduring Love. Have you read it?There are very few male author who write women with authenticity, as far as I'm concerned. One of them is Larry McMurtry (Terms of Endearment).
And in answer to your question about Peter Mayle, yes it is the same author who wrote all the Provence books (I checked!)

Gentle Reader said...

I think I liked this book better than you did, but I think you have it pegged. I've always found McEwan's writing to have a slightly detached quality, but I like his style. I have yet to read Enduring Love, but it is one most McEwan fans recommend.

Literary Feline said...

I thought the book was beautifully executed, but the one fault I had with it was what you felt about the characters--there was something lacking in the connection with the characters.

Now that you mention it, I see your point about Cecelia's reaction to the letter and have to agree with you.

I have yet to read more by Ian McEwan, but I do plan on reading more by him. Saturday is the next book I have by him so it will probably be that one.

Kelly said...

Everyone makes good points--detachment and the lack of connection is precisely what I felt when reading McEwan's works. Despite that, I truly appreciate his writing style (with the exception of Amsterdam-didn't like that one bit). Saturday was a bit different; it also deals with characters' differing perceptions, but he delves more into their reactions to a single traumatic situation. I'm curious about the new one, On Chesil Beach. From what I've heard about it, it sounds like it moves in that same direction (more focus on emotions).

Didn't know that a film adaptation of Atonement is coming out. I'll have to look for my copy and reread it beforehand.

Iliana said...

Yep, I read it for a book group :)
I liked it okay but remember feeling a bit disappointed. I liked Saturday better. Have you read that one?
I'm looking forward to the movie.

Tara said...

Lazy cow - This was my first McEwan book. Enduring Love sounds interesting, as does Cement Garden. I agree with what you've said about male authors writing women. Thanks for answering my question!

Gentle reader, thanks for your thoughts, and for recommending Enduring Love.

Literary Feline, I really appreciate the emotion I feel when reading a good book and I think that's perhaps why I haven't connected with it as much as others have.

Hi Kelly! Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughts on McEwan's other books. The film stars Kiera Knightly and looks like it's to be released late this year, or early next year. I would think in time for award season =)

Bookgirl, haven't read Saturday. It looks like I have a few good ones to choose from when I decide to read another book by McEwan.

Danielle said...

This is the only McEwan I have read and I really liked it. I made the big mistake, however of loaning it (I even had bought the hardcover from the UK!!) to a coworker. She then retired and never returned it to me. I'm terrible--I still think about my lost book! :( I only recently heard it was being made into a movie. I guess I will have to check out Enduring Love, now, as others are recommending it!

Jill ONeill said...

I haven't read anything by this author, for many of the same reasons that you cite; I prefer to wait a bit 'til all the hoorah dies down.

But I think it's interesting how much film drives interest in the book and vice versa. Right now the most frequently visited entry on my blog is the review I did of Stardust back in June. I don't think it is the quality of the review, but the interest people have in searching for information on the film at the moment.

Carrie K said...

I've never read any of his books. Yet. I'm not sure Atonement is one I'd pick up first now.

Tara said...

Danielle, I hate it when I don't get books back - or almost as bad, have them returned in poor condition.

Jill, it is interesting, the relationship between books and the movies they inspire. I always do avoid those tie-in books; I wonder if there will be one published of Atonement with Keira Knightly on the cover...

Carrie, I think a lot of people really, really enjoy don't let me put you off permanantly!