Thursday, June 17, 2010

#13 - "Atonement" by Ian McEwan

I'm already done another book, this one went by quite quickly.  I'll thank fewer pages and large print for the speed in which I was able to read this one however, not some new technique I picked up on a late night infomercial.  I saw Atonement described as a "romance" novel, which I don't see at all.  Yes, there is a love story, but it isn't a "romance" novel.  When I think of romance novels, I think of Fabio on the cover, holding a woman, with his hair flapping in a phantom breeze.  This novel isn't like that at all.

Atonement reminds me more of a play actually, than a novel; being divided into four parts, each taking place in a different place and a different time, much like acts in a stage production.  Starting off in 1935, the novel follows the Tallis family on a hot summer day outside of London.  The Tallis family reminds me a lot of the Flytes in Brideshead Revisited, being very wealthy, mostly care-free, but still friendly and accommodating.  Things become more serious however, when 13 year old Briony witnesses something horrible during a family get together; or at least she thinks she did.  The lives of everybody in the family change forever after that night, and Briony spends the rest of her life trying to make up for her actions.

There were a couple of unique things about Atonement and I'm not sure what I think of them.  It has one of the largest time shifts I've ever seen in a book, going from 1940 to 1999 at one point.  Although not unheard of, I have to admit that while reading about events which took place during the War and even before it, I did not expect to later be reading about 1999 or words like 'computer' and 'mobile phone.'  Secondly, and I don't think I've ever seen this before, the book switches from 3rd person in the first three parts to 1st person in the fourth and final part.  The book changes from being told about Briony and the Tallis family to being told by Briony about the Tallis family.  It was an interesting shift, but I found myself having to remember that "I" was one of the main characters, not a narrator.  It stuck me that this was the author breaking the "fourth wall", when one of the characters begins speaking to the reader.  I do enjoy the intimacy of 1st person narrations, as I find it to be as if the author and myself are in on a secret that nobody else knows about.  A similar technique was used in Midnight's Children, when the author continually mentioned writing the story, making it sound as if I were reading it as it was being written; literally standing over the typewriter while he worked away.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed Atonement and was eager to see what would happen next, but I wouldn't classify it as one of my favorites so far.  That isn't to say this wasn't a good book, quite the contrary, it just has pretty strong competition and they can't all be my favorite.

You can read the Time Magazine review from March 25, 2002, here

Notes: Briony was reading The Waves by Virginia Woolf at one point.  While it isn't on The List, two of her other books are; To the Lighthouse  and Mrs. Dalloway.  So far The Corrections is the only book from The List to mention another.

This is also the newest book I've read so far, and the 2nd newest book on The List.  Only Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was published more recently.

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