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Atonement Paperback – 2 May 2002
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"A magnificent novel" (Independent)
"A superb achievement" (New York Times)
"The best thing he has ever written" (Observer)
"He is this country's unrivalled literary giant...a fascinatingly strange, unique and gripping novel" (Independent on Sunday)
"McEwan's best novel so far, his masterpiece" (Evening Standard)
"A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama" (John Updike)
"Subtle as well as powerful, adeptly encompassing comedy as well as atrocity, Atonement is a richly intricate book... A superb achievement" (Sunday Times)
"Atonement is a masterpiece...it is also an elegy to a time which, however volatile, still had certainties" (The Times)
"An evocative depiction of the dangers of innocence and ignorance in the face of uncomfortable reality." (Herald)
"Brilliantly explores the currents of guilt, shame and anger... Utterly satisfying, complete" (Scotsman)
'The best thing he has ever written' ObserverSee all Product description
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The narrative at its core starts like Downtown Abbey but phases into scenes that make that first 30mins of Saving Private Ryan feel pedestrian . Start to end this is a technical tour de force of wordmanship....the author must be at the peak of his powers. That would be enough but the structure into which this has been folded is quite superb.The story has been skillfully wrapped up into an essay on novel writing itself and there is even a segment - delivered as a rejection letter from a publisher - that appears to be a commentary on an earlier draft of the novel you are reading.
Best thing I have read in a long time. Maybe ever. And one i suspect that will reward a revisit.
So herewith the extract from the email of 5 years ago:
Yesterday I finished the book - 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan, you know the movie I tried to recommend you, the one with Keira Knightly. Well, I haven't watched the film, but now that I read the book, I cannot wait to see the film.
So yeah, yesterday, at about 10PM I was finishing the book, and I started to cry, and couldn't stop, all the last pages. I literary was in hysterics. The novel is amazing, so sad, magnificent and beautiful. For the first time the book about war impressed me so much, the horrific waste of a single human life, the wasted love, desperate, but unfulfilled hope... and wait. Terrific book, beautiful. Why did he made it so horrible? - I was asking myself. But, the thing is, that how it was, the casualties of war, when no-one was important on a singular individual basis.
And how one word, one deed, can change the life of a person forever. How cruel people can be. And how in love can people be, no matter what.
I tried to console myself, went to have a bath, and I was crying all the way to the bathroom, I was crying while taking my make up off, I was crying while undressing (my t-shirt was soaked with tears), I was crying, while sitting in the bath, I was crying when I was putting my pyjamas on, I was crying when I was drying my hear (and even the heat from the hair-drying couldn't dry them). I was crying when I was falling asleep, I was crying when I woke up in the morning - seriously. At night, I had vague dreams about the book. And on the train, I tried to completely blank my mind from any thoughts, because all the thoughts I had were about the book. And I couldn't do it, and I felt how my eyes were swelling, and I was biting my lip just to stop myself from crying, I was thinking about the hair on the black arm of the Indian guy, holding a handle on the train, I was thinking about blue sky and warm November morning, I was thinking about negligence in tort, but those thoughts were so weak and unimportant... So I just prayed not to cry in public. This emotion is really private.
It's been more than 10 years since I cried over the book.
Hmm, a book to change one's life? I don't think so. Or, at least, I haven't read that kind of book yet. And I read a lot. And I am quite an emotional human-being, but no, no book has ever changed my life. Altered my view a little bit - definitely. Or opened my eyes to something I never understood before. And I think to open one's eyes or to alter one's view is quite a deed for a book! "Atonement" was definitely one of those rare books for me.
The only surprise was that the act the narrator has to atone for happens two thirds of the way through the book, rather than right at the beginning.
There are some scenes set in wartime France during the Dunkirk retreat, which I found particularly gripping. I also enjoyed the perspective on what it is like to be a writer, which comes in through the narrator's early attempts at writing a play.
The character who is wronged is put in an interesting situation. Ian McEwan makes you think what you could possibly do if you were also in that situation.
I'm sure we have also done things which we may have later regretted and can imagine those acts magnified to the level that the narrator has to atone for.
Would like to see the film now to see how it compares.
One thing that stood out for me when reading Atonement was McEwan's ability to force his readers to connect with his characters emotionally; whether positively or negatively.
I don't want to say anything else in fear of spoiling any plots etc but I shall end my review by saying that although saddening, the books epilogue was one of the most satisfying, beautiful and heart warming, whilst still remaining realistic I have ever read.
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