A rare novel of tragedy, beauty, and consequences, Ian McEwan’s Atonement is a book to be savored, pondered, and enjoyed on cold rainy days. The events of the novel are so gripping and moving that they identify with every human being.
Atonement opens on a hot summer day in the English countryside with Briony Tallis, an overly imaginative 13 year old with literary aspirations. Her naiveté and inventiveness lead her to tragically misinterpret a flirtatious scene between her older sister Cecilia and Robbie, their servant’s son. Cecilia and Robbie, who essentially grew up together, though the lines of class and increasing attraction separated them, are both recently home from university.
The same university, in fact, where, Cecilia has spent the last several years avoiding him. Unspoken sexual tension reaches its peak as the two once again encounter each other at Tallis home. What the young Briony happens to witness between the two leads her to draw unforgivable conclusions for which she will spend her whole life trying to atone.
The events of the novel are such that to say too much would be to unpardonably give away secrets that each reader must discover for themselves. As Atonement progresses from that one unforgivable summer day in 1935 through World War II and to the end of the twentieth century, McEwan deals with the heartbreaking consequences of sin and its repercussions, and whether or not forgiveness is always possible.
Atonement is a novel of what if’s and what are’s. It forces us to see the folly of assumptions and to evaluate the consequences of misinterpreting the truth.
Jill Tanner reads the unabridged version of Atonement. (Don’t you dare miss a word of this novel by listening to an abridged version?) At first, the choice of a woman seemed unusual to me, however, the more I listened, the more I understood why Jill Tanner was selected to narrate the book. Her voice is easy to listen to and she has a good command of the mood Ian McEwan evokes in his writing.