Top critical review
A great writer playing with his readers
on 17 August 2016
Ian McEwan is one of the greatest novelists writing today but this book, published in 2001, is a big disappointment in my view. It sounds interesting - the tale of how a 13-year old girl from an upper middle class family ruins the life of two other people one day and then has to live with her demons. There are several glimpses of Ian McEwan's huge talent - particularly his ability to focus in on how characters think, feel and change their minds. But there are two major problems from the book in my view. Spoiler warning! The first is the weakness of the characters. Briony, in her chocolate box reincarnation, after she decides on the course of atonement is both boring and unconvincing. The other characters are rather feeble as well. What I personally disliked was the trick that is revealed at the end. It is the same kind of move that John Fowles made with his alternative ending in The French Lieutenant's Woman. In both cases, I find this a betrayal of the reader and a demonstration of the godlike power of the author. If that is the punchline of the novel then I would rather not waste my time.