“Atonement” Review

      As readers we don’t often question the narrator of a novel, yet Ian McEwan’s Atonement, challenges readers and their ability to distinguish between fiction and truth.

    The novel follows the chaos and guilt that surround a single decision. After Briony Tallis begins to see a romance between her older sister, Cecilia, and a servant’s son Robbie Turner, it leads her to a guilt-ridden choice. Briony frames Robbie Turner for a crime he did not commit, this drives Briony to spend the rest of her life attempting to reach her “atonement.”

     Atonement being just one of three novels assigned for AP Lit’s summer reading, was the one I was most excited for. The story of a sudden mistake leading to two character’s love story abruptly ending,  immediately drew me in. I quickly learned the book was much more than one of star-crossed lovers.

    Through the perspective of Briony, the novel exemplifies postmodernism work. The novel is split into three parts with three significant time jumps. Upon first reading, my biggest critic is how separated the three parts felt. 

   There is a large shift as the second part follows Robbie Turner, who is now a soldier fighting during World War II. Initially, it felt as if it was a completely different novel and it often felt confusing or lacking some context. It’s not until the third part of the story that we see each part fall together to create a cohesive piece of work.

     The recurring theme of guilt and loss of innocence in the novel plays a large role in the understanding. Briony is a romanticist, she manipulates her surroundings to fit into her perfect story. Her ability to turn many simple interactions into another piece of her fictional world have long term consequences on her. 

    McEwan’s use of imagery in Briony’s mind and her often naive outlook on the events around her make the reader feel sympathy but also irritation toward her character. McEwan’s work urges readers to not allow fantasy to get in the way of the truth.      

    The novel comes full circle to the ending, yet as a reader I couldn’t help but feel like it was unfinished. The readers are left to decide whether Briony truly atoned for her mistake. I didn’t particularly like how some aspects of the novel went into great detail, yet the ending felt quite abrupt. Although McEwan may have written the ending to be left on a questionable note to follow the idea of metafiction.

    Despite the novel sometimes feeling quite separated I think it’s a good addition to the AP English Literature’s summer reading assignment. Alongside the two other books assigned for summer reading, Atonement follows similar themes of redemption.

    The novel is challenging in its unique role of the reader and their perspective of the novel. The postmodernism works allows the reader to truly influence how they analyze the story. What really made the novel so impactful, was the bittersweet ending, and it’s ability to leave me with many questions. If you’re looking for a book where ultimately you decide how you want to view the ending Atonement is the perfect example, because as the reader you decide whether Briony achieved her own forgiveness.