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on 31 October 2005
I started reasing this book one saturday and I have to admit I found it very hard to put down. I'd only ever read Enduring Love of McEwan's before and found that even more exciting, mainly because of the start and the fact that there were many twists in the tale. The first part of Atonement, set in a family house and grounds in the 1930's is incredibly written- sensitive, mysterious and gripping. The plot moves on but into a different decade and focussing soley on one character, then again in part three to another character. Fans of war novels will enjoy these parts, as McEwan's depiction of war time on the battle field and in the hospitals is realistic and moving. However I found the end slightly disappointing, not really because of the story but because the perspective changes from an impartial onlooker without an identity to a character we have observed throughout the novel. I found this view slightly biased and odd to read, and although the resolution of events at the end is fascinating I found that a few details and characters in the story were overlooked.
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VINE VOICEon 2 March 2010
This is a beautiful, beautiful novel. McEwan's writing is elegant and evocative and he proves himself the master of different styles as he moves from the domestic suspense of that famous hot summer in Part 1 to the horrors of the Second World War in Part 2. The ending is stunning and although it surprised me it was perfectly appropriate and brought together the strands of many important themes in the book. This is an emotional novel too and, yes, I cried over what is one of the great literary love stories.

Atonement is an absolute masterpiece. This is a great work of literature and will be remembered for many years to come.
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on 16 February 2008
I read this book because I knew the film was coming out soon and thought I'd like to read it first. To be honest I wouldn't have got past the first few pages if not for a friend who encouraged me to read on. It is a real slow starter and although important events happen in the first half of the book it's not quite a page-turner until about half way through.

However, it really picks up at this point. The whole of the book is skilfully written (some will like to read it for that alone) but the story really kicks in about half way through. I thought the whole thing was worth it for the ending. A lovely modernist twist that had me thinking for days after. Very glad (therefore) to have read the book before encountering the film.
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on 25 February 2009
I remember Atonement getting good reviews when it was first published a few years ago, also the film (which I have not seen) got good reviews. I intended to read the book but didn't get round to it until the new year when a friend who is a great reader praised it and lent me her copy.

I was not disappointed. It is an excellent book in many ways. I can sympathise with those who say that it is a bit slow starting and needs a bit of perseverance to get into it, but this is not unusual in good novels in my experience.

The events that define the book certainly take their time in coming, but this gives ample time to build the characters. I found all of them credible and all (well most) sympathetic. I wanted to see a good ending for all of them, although this is of course unrealistic.

I expected the war sequences to be a greater part of the book but they are just about right, and in many ways are the most defining parts of the book. The epilogue, written in the first person, finally puts things in perspective. I also found the long delayed premier of young Briony's play rather moving.

I did not find the young Briony as dislikeable as many see her and her search for reconciliation is, of course, the main thrust of the book. Does she achieve this? Well this is unclear and the epilogue is very well written in casting considerable doubt on events previously related. The closing of the loop between fact and fiction with Briony, a respected elderly author, being revealed as the author was well done.

A few details niggled. I am not convinced about the letter sent in error (which is a pivotal point of the book). I can believe Robbie writing it, but I not sure that an upper class girl like Cecelia would be familiar with the language. And if she was (she had been to Girton after all) would her thirteen year old sister? Although I did find the suggestion of jealousy by the adolescent girl being a reason behind her actions convincing.

The other thing is why should this letter precipitate two people who hitherto had a brother and sister relationship into a passionate relationship?

And Lola: she is portrayed as the "baddie" of the book and I cannot really see this. Unless I have missed something and she was a willing participant in the "attack" all along of course.

I also think that the book owed something to The Go Between, also an excellent book.

Incidentally I learned something. I was totally unaware of the disaster at Balham station.

Definitely a recommendation.
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on 28 September 2007
I bought my copy of Atonement around five years ago and I never seemed to get around to reading it, even though I am a big fan of Ian McEwan's work. I knew that the release of the film version is imminent, so I decided to take it with me on holiday, so that I could set myself the goal of reading it before the film comes out. When I started it I could not understand why it had taken me the best part of five years to get around to reading it. I was totally engrossed by every aspect of the book; it is very atmospheric, it has a strong narrative drive, the characters are brilliantly drawn and you care what happens to the main protagonist.

In the hot summer of 1935 thirteen year old Briony Tallis is trying to stage a play to welcome her older brother home, but her cousins are proving not to be up to the task. As she sulks in her room she notices that her sister Cecilia has stripped her clothes off and jumped into a fountain, apparently at the behest of the cleaning lady's son Robbie. Her vivid imagination transforms this scene into something very different, and when that night something truly terrible does happen, she completely misconstrues it, with consequences that will dramatically change the lives of Cecilia, Robbie and herself. McEwan brilliantly captures how a child's mind works and the ways in which a naive young girl can totally misunderstand adult passions.

The second part of the book is set during World War 2 and Robbie is desperately trying to get to Dunkirk. Cecilia and Briony have both become nurses and are dealing with the casualties of the conflict. McEwan's writing is consistently superb throughout this book, but the war scenes are incredible, being totally pervaded by a sense of danger. You have a real sense of the terror and confusion that the British forces must have experienced as they retreated from France. There is an intense immediacy to the writing in the war scenes and it is hard to believe that McEwan has no direct personal experience of being in a war zone. The horrors of war are graphically brought home, as well as the capacity of the soldiers to exhibit compassion or violence.

All of the characters are still living with the repercussions of Briony's actions from that sultry day of 1945. How will Briony atone for her crime and the promising lives that she has destroyed? She is desperate to re-establish conflict with her estranged sister and make amends to both her and Robbie. We see her character grow, develop and mature and the manner in which she attempts to redeem her earlier actions is revealed in an extraordinary twist. The whole novel is a testimony to the power of writing and the effect it can have upon our lives. If you haven't already read it, read it now because it is one of the best books written in the past decade, and is easily the best novel to come from the pen of England's finest living writer.
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on 6 January 2009
We are first introduced to the story through the eyes of a naïve, yet intelligent 13-year-old, Briony, the main character of Atonement and owner of an overly fruitful imagination. It is because of this and her sense of determination to act on her imagination that the story unravels, thus causing such pain and such great tension between members of her family. Having created such a disaster, the central part of the novel sees her returning to the midst of the anguish to atone for the mistakes she made in childhood. By the end of the novel, I had warmed to her; a conclusion I didn't think I would result in at the beginning, where she is portrayed as an unlikable brat.
Atonement is a sensational read, set over three time periods; this novel captures the lifestyle of an upper middle class family pre Second World War, whilst also managing to show the true hardness experienced during the war, in such a graphic, realistic way, it really pays tribute to those who fought in the war in such a way I have never experienced in War films nor books.
A great book is made phenomenal by the excellent writing and use of words so typical of McEwan, the theme of romance throughout the novel is portrayed in a more subtle way than most, although it is still obvious that it is a tale of love. . It has been argued that McEwan goes into too much detail where it isn't necessary. However, I believe that this novel would be enjoyed by anyone who is passionate about literature, of any age. This is a truly worthwhile read and possibly the peak of McEwan's work.
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on 5 June 2010
After fifty or so pages, I thought this book would join the very select list of those I could not finish (which includes Catch 22 and One Hundred Years of Solitude!). Gradually, I became accustomed to the fact that this book, unlike almost all, is NOT about actions and deeds, but about thoughts. McEwan uses the opening section to establish the fantasy world in which Briony lives, so that the (false) accusation of rape against Robbie that she inspires seems entirely plausible. This is an exceptional novel by an accomplished author.
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Ok I am a big Ian McEwen fan, but whilst I may be bias I rate this as one of the top ten book written by a British author in the last twenty years.

The story is one of family conflict and deceit. The story delves into the lives of a family and close friends who one evening are bought together when a incident occurs which is covered up. Someone has to shoulder the blame and the story revolves around the consequences of the cover up and the wrongful accusation of a young family friend and how that affects not just his life but those of the family.

The story spans a period of 60 years or so but the plot entwines through the years, to climax at the very end.

I was shocked by some of the prose, especially the description of the mayhem on the roads to Dunkirk and the horrors of war, but I was greatly moved by the book and recommend it highly.
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on 13 January 2008
i have read ian mcewen books in the past, enduring love and the child in time. they were good books. i bought atonement in a charity shop about a year ago and after reading the outline on the back of the book i couldnt muster the enthusiasm to read it. i saw the film advertised with its images of war and decided it might be worth reading. i must say this is one of the best books i have ever had the pleasure to read. i could not put it down. i was at work in the canteen reading about briony in the hospital i was laughing at the soldier having shrapnel removed the next i was close to tears as i read brionys meeting with the young french soldier. a true modern great, i would recomend this book to anyone
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VINE VOICEon 29 August 2006
I have already raved about this book in the form of a paperback - see my other review there. But for a wonderful book to be read so beautifully with such expression by a voice as rich and resonant as Isla Blair's is a real pleasure. She depicts the different characters with great expression and real attention to the nature of the characters, from the main Briony narrative to the "little boy" voices of Jackson and Pierrot, and the booming complacency of Paul Marshall.

I have whiled away many hours of tedious driving listening to this audiobook in the car. A real pleasure.
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