Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Atonement (by Ian McEwen)

Finnegans Wake is still sitting on my bookshelf, taunting me. If I can finish it by the end of the year, I will have completed a New Year’s Resolution! Yeah. Yet there is the problem of the finishing. And the reading. And the picking it up off the bookshelf..

In the meantime, I am onto the Time list, and Atonement is another book that Ian already had on our bookshelves. Very handy, his book collection. Reading this book was an experience. I started out absolutely loving it—the prose is pitch-perfect, masterful. Then at the end of the first part, you find out what happens, and it is so depressing that I had a hard time picking it up again. I get all anxious at the idea of Tragic Misunderstanding, I suppose.

The next part was the war part, and it took me a little while to get into it, but it is very vivid, very much like A Farewell to Arms, which I did not love, but do acknowledge did a great job of portraying a war march. McEwan did a great job as well. and I definitely did care about the character. Unlike Beth, I did not pick up on anything about the novel’s structure at this point.

Then came the nurse section, which brought me closer to being sympathetic toward Briony, but not really, as I still wanted her to suffer more—which I guess was the point, in the end. And then came the ending, and now I am going to spoiler tag:

At first the whole metafiction coda made me upset, but that’s probably because I really wanted the semi-happy ending for the characters. Beth said that she was afraid Robbie would turn out to be the villain after all—I had that same fear! Upon reflection, I think that the ultimate reveal is perfect. It adds a beautiful layer of meaning to the whole story—not only does it provide the final tragic blow to the reader, but it reveals that Briony’s atonement was to get inside the heads and hearts of these people, to fully convey the depth of her crime against them. Minor plot question: I didn’t think that Lola actually knew Paul had done it, although Briony clearly did think that, from her behavior in the church and her statements at the end. I thought Lola was confused, in spite of having been attacked by Paul earlier, and I blamed Briony from start to finish. Also, what kind of a name is that? Sorry, I have an issue with implausible names.

I also have the feeling that I need to think about this book more. Maybe Ian or Foo can convince me that the ending is a bad idea after all. (I think they both think that.)


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3:33 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I really encourage you to read this one a second time. I am not sure how much credit to give a novel if it didn't work for you the first time, but I liked it so much better on a second read, knowing what was coming later.

I am also really glad that I listened to it on audio the first time, though, so that I knew how to pronounce "Briony"! It is, in fact, a very stupid name. "To swell"? You name your daughter "to swell"?

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Margaret said...

In my opinion, you don't really need to read all of Finnegan's Wake. I think reading a quarter of it, not even in sequence, ought to count. You could read parts to a sleepless baby, or if you have insomnia, (why do I think it is good for sleeping?) but to try to sit and just force the whole thing down feels wrong to me.

9:28 PM  
Blogger K said...

That was exactly how I felt about "Atonement".

Sad to say, Briony is a perfectly plausible name in Britain (though unusual). I went to school with a Briony and a Bryony. It's a flower. I wouldn't give it to a daughter of mine, but I don't think it's any sillier than say, Madison.

5:05 PM  

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