Atonement by Ian McEwan

We enjoyed this book, with one vote of 3 out of 5 and everyone else rating it even higher. The following comments are from a Guardian review.


Atonement does not feel, at first, like a book by McEwan. The opening is almost perversely ungripping. Instead of the expected sharpness of focus, the first 70 or so pages are a lengthy summary of shifting impressions. The book later contains a critique of its own early pages - or at least of the draft from which they derive.

Cecilia, the eldest daughter of the family in whose house we are imaginatively lodged, was at Cambridge with Robbie, whose education was funded by Cecilia's father. They become aware, on this sultry day, of some kind of current - animosity? irreconcilable attraction? - passing between them. Robbie tries to articulate this in a letter and sends the letter to Cecilia via her adolescent sister, Briony, who opens and reads it.

The consequences of the go-between blundering in like this are liberating and incriminating in unequal measure.

In the second section of the novel, the pastel haze of the first part gives way to an acrid, graphic account of Robbie's later experiences in the British rout at Dunkirk. In the atrocious context of battle, Briony's apparently motiveless crime is rendered almost insignificant.

Part three shifts back to London, where Briony is training as a nurse, struggling to cope with the influx of casualties from Dunkirk. McEwan's command of visceral shock is here anchored in a historical setting thoroughly authenticated by his archival imagination.

It is a tribute to the scope, ambition and complexity of Atonement that it is difficult to give an adequate sense of what is going on in the novel without preempting - and thereby diminishing - the reader's experience of it.