Atonement – Ian McEwan



Chosen by Suzy

A girl’s half-innocent mistake ruins the lives of those around her, and she spends the rest of her life attempting to atone. 

Briony Tallis, a 13-year-old from an upper class family spies an intimate moment between her sister and the neighbouring boy, Robbie, in the home’s library. She is shaken, presuming it a physical assault. Later that evening her twin cousins run away, search parties are organised and Briony, searching alone, comes upon her 9-year-old cousin Lola being assaulted in the darkness by someone she is convinced must be the monstrous Robbie. Her testimony changes the course of all their lives.

“In part II of the book, Robbie, now with the British Expeditionary Force in France, is wounded and making his way to Dunkirk for evacuation.

“Briony is a nurse, fixing up fallen soldiers day after day, itself some kind of atonement. She now realises her mistake and is determined to make amends by recanting her testimony which she puts on paper in novelistic form before approaching her long unseen sister.

“However, it soon becomes apparent that not is at all how it seems and that storytelling, as witnessed in the opening pages with 13-year-old Briony’s failed attempt at playwrighting, is an important part of the plot. The sustained  illusion is anchored in an authentically detailed historical setting with the psychological nature of the book slowly revealed.”

How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.

“The thing I love about Ian McEwan is his ability to refashion ordinary things into sensory experiences. Reading his work makes me feel as though I’ve been there, met the folk and lived the complexities of their lives. Atonement is no different. And in fact probably better. Robbie and Cecilia are my friends, I can see the vast Tallis mansion behind my eyes and will remember the scene on Dunkirk for a long time to come. I adore this book.” – Rachel

“This book still haunts me!  The retreat to Dunkirk was so evocatively written that I felt I could have sat down with a soldier who was there and genuinely related to him and discussed it as a shared experience (yes I *do* realise how ridiculous that sounds). One of my all-time favourites and one of the few novels where I think the movie has done it justice.” – Suzy

Published 2001
Jonathan Cape
371 pages

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