Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Paperback, First Anchor Books Edition, 351 pages
Published March 2003 by Anchor Books
(first published 2001)

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

My thoughts…

In World War II England, 13-year-old Briony Tallis misinterprets her older sister’s, Cecilia, love affair with their housekeeper's son, Robbie, to be something much worse than what it is. Her innocence and partial understanding of the world begins a chain of events that tears the family apart and alters the course of the rest of the girl’s life. From there on, we follow Robbie and Cecilia's story, as they deal with the consequences of Briony's not-so-innocent mistake, and with the young girl's long and painful journey for forgiveness.

I’ve never watched the movie adaptation and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The novel is told in three parts; The first part of the novel gives us an intense story about a family who lives in a mansion in England. Briony, Cecilia and the other family members are peculiar characters. The second is about Robbie, now serving in the British Army, fleeing the German invasion of France. It also describes Briony's grisly experience at a London hospital as soldiers arrive for treatment. And the last part jumps ahead to 1999, for an epilogue that complicates the events and what really happened that night at the Tallis estate. The ending wraps up beautifully, and then as I continue to read on, I’m left feeling a bit cheated by the truth.

Atonement is my first Ian McEwan novel, his mastery of language, his use of symbolism and the clever narrative structure held my interest throughout. I was so invested in Robbie and Cecilia. I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Ian McEwan’s novels.

“It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.”
― Ian McEwan, Atonement


  1. I did see this movie but don't remember what I thought of it. I did click the spoiler because I can't seem to help myself when it comes to that kind of thing and I would think that those last paragraphs would be quite the let down. Great review!

    1. Oh my goodness Carole, I also can't help myself when I see a spoiler button, I always have to click on it. I would very much like to see the movie so I can see how it compares to the book. Have a wonderful day.