Monday, June 15, 2015

Atonement by Ian McEwan

"Miss _____,

You're right about this book being hard to read but I whole-heartedly believe it will end up being one of your favorite novels. The prose alone is reason enough to read this. I sincerely hope you try. 


PS: I was wrong on the stairs yesterday, sometimes people surprise you! <3"

I made a mistake in 2008 and watched the movie Atonement not realizing I had the book Atonement unread on my bookshelf. After watching the movie, I promptly gave away the novel because I couldn't stand to read it. The topic hits me deep in my gut and it just hurts my heart. One of my first students was carrying it around, and I warned her it would be the most depressing read of all time. She read it, loved it, and passed it to me with the above note. 

Finally, this year I decided I thought I could stand to get through it. She is absolutely right about the prose. It is achingly beautiful as evidenced in this perfect sentence: 

"Their friendship had become vague and even constrained in recent years,  but it was still an old habit, and to break it now in order to become strangers on intimate terms required a clarity of purpose which had temporarily deserted them."

Without giving anything way, the story is about a little girl, Briony, who sees something she doesn't understand, and makes an accusation that she also doesn't understand. The book then follows her attempts at atoning for what she has done. It is clever and witty in a way that all literate people will adore: 

"Mention of 'a quiet corner in a library' was a code for sexual ecstacy." 

It captures the secret weird thoughts that I have always thought and didn't realize anyone knew that I thought quirky inner thoughts that some people might relate to: 

"Cecilia wondered, as she sometimes did when she met a man for the first time, if this was the one she was going to marry, and whether it was this particular moment shoe would remember for the rest of her life - with gratitude, or profound and particular regret." 

I read it as quickly as possible because it is still the most depressing novel of all time, and it is not one of my favorites, but it is worth a read maybe? I'm conflicted. A student this year wanted to read it; I warned her it was sadder than The Road. She didn't believe me until she finished the book...then she said it was worse than The Road. She had to construct a lesson based on the text. Her activity for the class was trying to write an apology as Briony to the other characters which was an impossible act of frustration because some things you can't say sorry for. 

If you like achingly sad love stories, this is the novel for you. If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what you're getting into. 


Christopher said...

The ending of Atonement is what Life of Pi tried to do and failed.

Brittany said...

So I actually really liked Life of Pi. I realize I'm in the minority with most of my friends, and I wonder if that's because I read it as a high schooler and it was shelved in young adult so I had slightly different expectations who read it as an adult and pulled it from fiction?

Christopher said...

I hated the ending of Life of Pi. I think it's cheap, shallow, and more moralizing than the religions it wants to criticize. The ending of Atonement, for me, seemed earned in a way Life of Pi didn't.