- Atonement (novel)
name = Atonement
image_caption = Atonement cover
language = English
release_date = 2001
media_type = Print (
pages = 371 pp
isbn = ISBN 0224062522 (first edition)
2001) is a novel by British writer Ian McEwan. It is widely regarded as one of McEwan's best works and was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prizefor fiction, an award he had already won for his previous novel, "Amsterdam". In addition, "Time" magazine named it the best fiction novel of the year and included it in its "All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels", [ [http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/0,24459,atonement,00.html Atonement - ALL-TIME 100 Novels - TIME ] ] and " The Observer" cites it as one of the 100 best novels written, calling it "a contemporary classic of mesmerising narrative conviction." [ [http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/observer/archives/2005/05/11/the_best_novels_ever_version_12.html The best novels ever (version 1.2) from Observer Blog ] ]
"Atonement" is one of the most celebrated and honoured books of recent years; in addition to being shortlisted for the
Booker Prize, it was also shortlisted for the 2001 James Tait Black Memorial Prizeand the 2001 Whitbread Book Awardfor Novel. It won the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prizefor Fiction, the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Awardfor Fiction, the 2002 WH Smith Literary Award, and the 2004 Santiago Prize for the European Novel. [ [http://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/news_details.php?news_id=692&year=2007 About King's College London : News and What's On : King's College London ] ] In it's 1000th issue, Entertainment Weeklynamed the novel #82 on its list of best 100 books in the past twenty five years.
McEwan utilises several stylistic techniques in the novel including
metafictionand psychological realism.
"Atonement" contains intertextual references to a number of other literary works including
Thomas Hardy's " Jude the Obscure", Henry James' " The Golden Bowl", Jane Austen's " Northanger Abbey", Samuel Richardson's " Clarissa" and Shakespeare's " The Tempest", " Macbeth", and " Twelfth Night". It also has a (fictional) letter by the literary critic and editor Cyril Connolly, addressed to the character Briony Tallis.
In late 2006
Lucilla Andrews' autobiography "No Time for Romance" became the focus of a posthumous controversy when it was alleged that McEwan plagiarized from this work while writing his novel "Atonement". McEwan professed his innocence.cite web | title=An inspiration, yes. Did I copy from another author? No | work=Guardian Online | url=http://books.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1957845,00.html | accessdate=2006-11-27] [cite web | title=McEwan hits back at call for atonement | work=Times Online | url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2473382,00.html | accessdate=2006-11-27] [cite web | title=McEwan accused of copying writers memoirs | work=PR inside | url=http://www.pr-inside.com/mcewan-accused-of-copying-writer-s-memoirs-r27254.htm | accessdate=2006-11-27] Several high profile authors leapt to his defence, including John Updike, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Keneally, Zadie Smith, and the reclusive Thomas Pynchon. [ [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/12/06/nwriter06.xml Recluse speaks out to defend McEwan - Telegraph ] ] [ [http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,1965130,00.html Pynchon backs McEwan in 'copying' row | News | Guardian Unlimited Books ] ]
An award-winning film adaptation directed by
Joe Wrightfrom a screenplay by Christopher Hamptonwas released by Working Title Filmsin September 2007 in the UKand in December 2007 in the US.
"Atonement" is a complex novel told from several points of view and divided into four parts.
The story opens on a hot summer day in 1935. Precocious but naive aspiring writer Briony Tallis, aged 13, has written a play for her brother Leon, with the characters to be played by her cousins, 15-year old Lola and 9-year old twins Jackson and Pierrot.Briony's sister, 23-year old Cecilia Tallis, has returned home from
Girton College, Cambridge, and is confronting her confused feelings towards Robbie Turner, son of the housekeeper, whose studies were financed by her father, Jack Tallis and who, like Cecilia, studied literature at Cambridge University.
While trying to water some flowers, the couple break a valuable vase and pieces fall into the fountain. Cecilia strips to her underwear and jumps into the fountain to retrieve the fragments in front of a startled Robbie. Briony witnesses the ensuing moment of sexual tension from an upstairs bedroom and is confused as to its meaning.
Leon Tallis arrives with his friend Paul Marshall, an aspiring businessman who plans to sell chocolate bars to the Army. Leon invites Robbie to dinner, much to Cecilia's annoyance, as she is still confused as to why Robbie disturbs her so much.
Robbie, meanwhile, returns to his bungalow to write a letter to Cecilia. After finishing it, he adds a lewd suggestion on to the bottom, using the word "
cunt". Although he then writes another version of the letter to give to Cecilia, it is the first that is inadvertently delivered to Cecilia via Briony, who reads it and is convinced, in her fertile imagination, that Robbie is a "sex maniac".
Upon reading the note, Cecilia realises her love for Robbie, and they declare their love for each other in a heated encounter in the library. Briony interrupts their lovemaking, which she interprets as a sexual assault upon her sister.
During dinner, the twin cousins run away, leaving a letter, and the family party begins searching for them in the extensive grounds of the estate. In the dark, Briony comes across Lola being raped by an unknown attacker. Briony convinces herself that the rapist is Robbie, and Lola acquiesces to this claim.
The police arrive to investigate, and when Robbie arrives with the rescued twins, he is arrested solely on the basis of Briony's testimony. Apart from Robbie's mother, only Cecilia believes in his innocence.
The reader follows Robbie Turner in France during the
Dunkirk evacuationof 1940.
As a result of Briony's accusation, Robbie spent three years in prison before being released on condition of enlistment in the army. He has been in contact with Cecilia, and she has promised that she'll wait for him.
They've met only once since his arrest, a fleeting half hour spent in awkwardness, but they shared a kiss before Cecilia had to leave.
At the end of part two, Robbie is still in Dunkirk, his fate unknown.
Briony is now working as a trainee nurse in London during the weeks leading up to and following the Dunkirk evacuation. She now believes that it was Paul Marshall who raped Lola in 1935 and feels guilty for accusing Robbie.
In this section, it becomes apparent that Briony sees her nursing work as a kind of atonement; she effectively sent Robbie to a horrible war, and now she has given up her hope of attending university and is nursing soldiers. She takes the exhausting and emotionally draining work, the constant cleaning of stinking bedpans and the sharp discipline under the tyrannical Sister Drummond as a deserved punishment.
In a crucial scene, Briony is called to the bedside of Luc, a young French soldier who is fatally wounded. She consoles him in his last moments by speaking with him in her school French, and he mistakes her for an English girl whom his mother wanted him to marry.
Just before his death Luc asks "Do you love me?" to which Briony answers "Yes"—not only because "no other answer was possible" but also because "for the moment, she did. He was a lovely boy far away from his family and about to die". Afterwards, Briony daydreams about the life she might have had if she had in truth married Luc and gone to live with him and his family. (Later it is briefly mentioned that after the war Briony married a Frenchman named Thierry in
Briony then attends the wedding of her cousin Lola and Paul Marshall but lacks the courage to speak out against the marriage.
She finally tracks down Cecilia, who is also a war-time nurse and is in self-exile from her family over their failure to believe Robbie's innocence. Robbie, on leave from the army, is with Cecilia at the time. The two are still furious at guilt-ridden Briony, who tells them that she will try to atone for what she did, and promises to begin the legal procedures needed to exonerate Robbie.
The fourth section, titled "London 1999", is written from the perspective of Briony, now a successful novelist in her 70s. She is dying from vascular dementia.
It is revealed that she is the author of the preceding sections of the novel, which are to be published only after the deaths of Lola and Paul Marshall—who are extremely rich and respectable, and are in the habit of launching libel suits against any publication presenting them in a negative light.
In the last few pages, we learn that, although they are reunited in Briony's novel, Cecilia and Robbie were never reunited in reality: Robbie died of
septicemiaon the beaches of Dunkirk (most likely a result of infection from a piece of shrapnel which embeds itself in his stomach and that is mentioned many times during Part Two); and Cecilia was killed at the bombing of the Balham tube station, a well-known disastrous incident of The Blitz.
Though the detail concerning Lola's marriage to Paul Marshall is true, and though Briony's narrative is evasive, it seems that she never visited Cecilia, who was mourning Robbie's death, in an effort to make amends for her lie.
The novel ends with a meditation on the nature of atonement and authorship. The conclusion that Briony appears to reach is that no amount of authorial fantasizing (or, for that matter, wretched work as a nurse) can actually atone for the crime she committed as a child of 13.
The ending attempts to consider differing forms of fiction—both lies in reality and in novels—and suggests that while the one can be irrevocably destructive, the other can offer a chance at happiness unachievable in life.
In the actual novel written by
Ian McEwan, the reader knows that in fact Cecilia and Robbie died tragically and were never reunited, and that Briony was haunted all her life by having irreversibly deprived them of their chance for happiness. However, Briony chooses to end her novel (written within McEwan's) with part 3, wherein the two lovers survive the war and embark on a happy life together.
In fact, at the book's final paragraph, Briony contemplates adding a last chapter to her novel, in which Cecilia and Robbie would be present at her seventy-seventh birthday ceremony—"still alive, still in love"—with their presence indicating that at long last they had forgiven her. But it is left unclear whether she ever actually wrote such a final chapter.
Objects and places
"The Trials of Arabella"
In the book, "The Trials of Arabella" is a play written by Briony Tallis in 1935 with the intention to teach her brother Leon to be more serious when it came to relationships. In the first part of the book the performance of the play is abandoned due to the lack of cooperation of Jackson and Pierrot, and the further complications that follow. The play is later performed in 1999 during Briony's 77th birthday celebration by various young grandchildren.
The Tallis Estate
The Tallis Estate is located in the Surrey Hills in England, being the family home and also the site of the Tallis family party for Briony's 77th birthday. It is at The Tallis Estate that the key moments of the exposition of the story take place. The first part of the book completely takes place on this estate.
In the final scene it has become a hotel; the family reunion for Briony's 77th birthday, with more than fifty guests including various grandchildren and great-grandchildren, takes place in the same library where Robbie and Cecilia consummated their love for the first and only time.
The vase originally belonged to Mr Tallis's brother, Clem, who received it as a present for saving the inhabitants of a town near
Verdunduring the first World War. Although it is very valuable, the Tallis family decides to keep using it to honour its owner's memory.
Cecilia and Robbie (who seemingly keep ignoring each other since their return from university) fight over the vase by the fountain and break off some shards, and Cecilia undresses to get them out of the fountain. This incident leads to (the different versions of) Robbie's apologetic letter. The subject of the vase comes up again when Briony visits Cecilia and Robbie and mentions that the vase has been broken; Cecilia is unsettled by the news.
During the period of time that they do not speak to each other, a part of the vase was broken, but later mended. Five years later after Robbie is arrested, Cecilia finds out from Briony that the vase has broken for good.
The second section of the book contains detailed descriptions of the Dunkirk evacuation, in which Robbie takes part, and gives an account of his war experiences.
The section describes the resentment felt by British foot soldiers towards the
RAFfor supposedly failing to adequately protect them from German Stukas during the retreat. In one scene, Robbie and his fellows save an RAF soldier from being lynched by infantrymen in the British Expeditionary Force. This scene is based on reminiscences that Ian McEwan heard from his father, who had been at Dunkirk. This hostility towards the RAF was later eclipsed by the glory the British pilots won during the Battle of Britain.
In the fourth section of the book, Briony is shown gathering information and obtaining opinions about the war in order to give as realistic a description as possible in her book. It is also revealed that she had received a number of letters from "Old Mr. Nettle", one of the two corporals with whom Robbie shared his experiences in Dunkirk.
Both Cecilia and Briony become nurses and are trained at the same hospital in London. Briony chooses hard and lowly work instead of a comfortable student life at Cambridge. In the hospital, Briony comes in contact with the harsh reality of war.
The hospital part of the book describes the strict semi-military discipline imposed on trainee nurses at the time, consciously modeled on the training of soldiers and harking back to the time of
Florence Nightingalein the Crimean War.
Robbie has been well-treated, being the friend and companion of the Tallis family children and having a first class school and university education paid for. Nevertheless, neither he nor the family members forget that he is the charwoman's son.
Sponsoring Robbie was mainly the initiative of Jack Tallis, Cecilia and Briony's father, who at the time when the story takes place is growing ever more distant and absent — officially because of the burden of his government job, actually because he is having an affair of which his wife is tacitly aware and which keeps him away for much of the time, including on the crucial night of crisis. Near the book's end it is told that later Jack Tallis would "live in London with his second wife".
Emily Tallis, the mother, has never approved of paying for Robbie's education, nor of Cecilia's going to Cambridge, which Emily considers a waste of time and money and which interferes with what she considers Cecilia's natural destiny to be: making a "suitable" match, marrying and having children. Cecilia is aware that Paul Marshall is considered as a possible husband for herself — Robbie would not have been considered suitable even under other circumstances.
Cecilia herself is at the beginning shown as sharing in the condescending and patronizing attitude towards Robbie. When they are grown, their unequal social positions cause tension and awkwardness between them, causing Robbie to avoid Cecilia during the three years when they are both at Cambridge. Two acts in the book break these social conventions — her undressing in front of him and his writing her a sexually explicit letter.
These same acts — witnessed by Briony and through her eventually widely revealed — fatally undermine Robbie's precarious social position. The Tallis family members (except for Cecilia) are immediately willing to believe the worst of him, as are the police officers stationed in the Surrey countryside. Cecilia's sensational revelation that their sexual encounter at the library was with her full consent does not help Robbie — it just serves to further convince the police that "Mr. Turner is a dangerous man".
In going away to be a nurse in London, and cutting herself completely off from her family, Cecilia expresses her anger and disgust at the family's turning on Robbie, and her understanding that in that social milieu he would never be taken as an equal and that their liaison would never be accepted.
Robbie's ambiguous social position is described in the Dunkirk part of the book, where he is "the private who talks like a toff." The two corporals, who formally outrank him, nevertheless accept his lead and address him as "guv'nor".
*Crosthwaite, Paul. "Speed, War, and Traumatic Affect: Reading Ian McEwan's "Atonement"." "Cultural Politics" 3.1 (2007): 51-70.
*D’hoker, Elke. “Confession and Atonement in Contemporary Fiction: J. M. Coetzee, John Banville, and Ian McEwan.” "Critique" 48.1 (2006): 31-43.
*Finney, Brian. "Briony's Stand Against Oblivion: The Making of Fiction in Ian McEwan's "Atonement"." "Journal of Modern Literature" 27.3 (2004): 68-82.
*Harold, James. "Narrative Engagement with "Atonement" and "The Blind Assassin"." "Philosophy and Literature" 29.1 (2005): 130-145.
*Hidalgo, Pilar. “Memory and Storytelling in Ian McEwan’s "Atonement".” "Critique" 46.2 (2005): 82-91.
*Ingersoll, Earl G. “Intertextuality in L. P. Hartley’s "The Go-Between" and Ian McEwan’s "Atonement".” "Forum for Modern Language Studies" 40 (2004): 241-58.
*Schemberg, Claudia. "Achieving 'At-one-ment': Storytelling and the Concept of Self in Ian McEwan's "The Child in Time", "Black Dogs", "Enduring Love" and "Atonement.' Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004."'
*Phelan, James. “Narrative Judgments and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative: Ian McEwan’s "Atonement".” "A Companion to Narrative Theory." Ed. James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. 322-36.
* [http://litsum.com/atonement/ Summaries and Analyses]
* [http://www.ianmcewan.com/bib/books/atonement.html Atonement] on McEwan's [http://www.ianmcewan.com/ official website]
* [http://fansites.hollywood.com/~inedit/briony.php Atonement] on InÉdit
* [http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/mcewani/atonement.htm Complete Review review]
* [http://mostlyfiction.com/world/mcewan.htm Ian McEwan] on Mostlyfiction.com
* [http://dir.salon.com/story/books/review/2002/03/21/mcewan/index.html Salon review]
* [http://blogcritics.org/archives/2002/09/25/130413.php Ian McEwan] on Blogcritics.com
* [http://www.awardannals.com/wiki/Honor_roll:Fiction_books The most honored novels] : "Atonement" has received numerous honors and is near the top of the list
* [http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/bwriting/stories/s748141.htm On ABC Radio National] Interview with Ramona Koval
* [http://www.mansionbooks.com/BookDetail.php?bk=282 Photos of the first edition of Atonement]
* [http://literapedia.wikispaces.com/Atonement Book notes for McEwan's Atonement on "Literapedia"]
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