Atonement

Authors: Ian McEwan
Published: 2001
Website: Wikipedia Page

Atonement is set in World War II Britain, and the war is the dividing line between two very different sections of the book. The first half of Atonement is a description of a family made up of brooding adults and a group of children. It focuses almost entirely on the younger group’s machinations (a word which, with its ominous underpinnings describes the children’s thoughts and plots perfectly). The next half of the novel describes the result of the innocent narrative in the first section which quickly became tragic. To say anything else would give away Atonement’s twist, but the story pivots on the contrast between the two halves of the novel; and McEwan excels at highlighting that contrast while connecting the two time-disconnected sections through character development.

After reading McEwan’s Amsterdam a few days ago, I decided to pick up Atonement, and I somewhat understand why Amsterdam won the Booker Prize and Atonement did not. Both books were full of McEwan’s wonderful, dreamy, and thorough description, but while Amsterdam was concise and its characters memorable, Atonement’s characters felt slightly fake, and the changes they go through in the transition from the first section to the second felt too perfect. Amsterdam was subtle even though its high-reaching tale of incriminating photographs, politics, and newspapers was not at all understated, but many scenes in Atonement felt destined to happen, and the ending was not all that surprising.

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