Atonement by Ian McEwan

83%

31 Critic Reviews

Slice it where you like, Atonement is a masterpiece of authorial control. It is also about authorial control, and the responsibilities that go with it... Its closing pages feel weightless, deliberately unsatisfactory compared to what has gone before...But the journey to that point is extraordinary, gut-wrenching.
-Guardian

Synopsis

The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the Tallis family’s mansion in the Surrey countryside. Thirteen-year-old Briony has written a play in honor of the visit of her adored older brother Leon; other guests include her three young cousins -- refugees from their parent’s marital breakup -- Leon’s friend Paul Marshall, the manufacturer of a chocolate bar called “Amo” that soldiers will be able to carry into war, and Robbie Turner, the son of the family charlady whose brilliantly successful college career has been funded by Mr. Tallis. Jack Tallis is absent from the gathering; he spends most of his time in London at the War Ministry and with his mistress. His wife Emily is a semi-invalid, nursing chronic migraine headaches. Their elder daughter Cecilia is also present; she has just graduated from Cambridge and is at home for the summer, restless and yearning for her life to really begin. Rehearsals for Briony’s play aren’t going well; her cousin Lola has stolen the starring role, the twin boys can’t speak the lines properly, and Briony suddenly realizes that her destiny is to be a novelist, not a dramatist.

In the midst of the long hot afternoon, Briony happens to be watching from a window when Cecilia strips off her clothes and plunges into the fountain on the lawn as Robbie looks on. Later that evening, Briony thinks she sees Robbie attacking Cecilia in the library, she reads a note meant for Cecilia, her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted, and she makes an accusation that she will repent for the rest of her life.

The next two parts of Atonement shift to the spring of 1940 as Hitler’s forces are sweeping across the Low Countries and into France. Robbie Turner, wounded, joins the disastrous British retreat to Dunkirk. Instead of going up to Cambridge to begin her studies, Briony has become a nurse in one of London’s military hospitals. The fourth and final section takes place in 1999, as Briony celebrates her 77th birthday with the completion of a book about the events of 1935 and 1940, a novel called Atonement.

In its broad historical framework Atonement is a departure from McEwan’s earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
 

About Ian McEwan

See more books from this Author
Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children's book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.
 
Published May 20, 2003 by Anchor. 370 pages
Genres: Other, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, History, Action & Adventure, Crime, Romance. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Atonement
All: 31 | Positive: 28 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
Dec 01 2001

...McEwan combines insight, penetrating historical understanding, and sure-handed storytelling despite a conclusion that borrows from early postmodern narrative trickery. Masterful.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Tom Shone on Mar 10 2002

...if it's plot, suspense and a Bergsonian sensitivity to the intricacies of individual consciousnesses you want, then McEwan is your man and ''Atonement'' your novel.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Nicholas Lezard on Apr 27 2002

Slice it where you like, Atonement is a masterpiece of authorial control. It is also about authorial control, and the responsibilities that go with it... Its closing pages feel weightless, deliberately unsatisfactory compared to what has gone before...But the journey to that point is extraordinary, gut-wrenching.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Hermione Lee on Sep 23 2001

Yet a great deal does survive at the end of the novel: family, children, memory, writing, perhaps even love and forgiveness. Or perhaps not; it depends which of the controlling novelist's endings we decide to believe in, as we hold this fragile shape of the unified fictional work in our mind's eye...

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Geoff Dyer on Sep 21 2001

It is less about a novelist harking nostalgically back to the consoling uncertainties of the past than it is about creatively extending and hauling a defining part of the British literary tradition up to and into the 21st century.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Nov 19 2001

With each book McEwan ranges wider, and his powers have never been more fully in evidence than here

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by Ted Gioia on Oct 04 2008

...it succeeds stunningly, despite the spins and back-flips. The author is in total control—as, indeed, he needs to be to pull off his plan. This book starts out solidly, and just gets better and better. At every twist and turn in the plot (and, heaven knows, there are plenty of them), McEwan delivers the goods.

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Blog Critics

Above average
Reviewed by Alexandria Jackson on Dec 22 2007

What struck me right from the beginning and continued all the way through was McEwan’s ability to convey the voice of a preoccupied 12-year-old girl through her early teens and then into her seventies.

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by Gordon Hauptfleisch on Dec 12 2005

With the engrossing, well-crafted and haunting Atonement...McEwan’s ninth novel offers a keen and nuanced exploration of familial love and forgiveness, tinged with an insidious sense of shadowy ambiguity and deceit...Atonement’s subtle complexity is thought-out, and also thought-provoking.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Charles Murtaugh on Sep 25 2002

... it is a well-plotted, unusually (for this author) emotionally-involving piece of conventional fiction;

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Book Reporter

Excellent
Reviewed by Tony Parker on Feb 25 2003

New readers and those familiar with McEwan's work will find themselves engrossed in a world of family, a desperate lie, war, and reconciliation...This reader heartily recommends Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT. His darkly rich prose is nothing less than beautiful and somewhat mystical.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Troy Patterson on Mar 22 2002

Atonement is, in several senses, Briony’s story. She’s both a sympathetic villain and a tarnished hero, and the wrinkles of her mind are the book’s deepest mystery and organizing principle. With muscle, with delicacy – and within the confines of extreme artificiality – the author makes this character bloom into a person.

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Christian Science Monitor

Excellent
Reviewed by Ron Charles

The extraordinary range of Atonement suggests that there's nothing McEwan can't do.

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The Bookbag

Above average
on Dec 11 2014

This is, without doubt, a superb book. The writing is masterly. In the first part of the book the events are momentous but there's still a sense of drifting, going nowhere...It's complex, many-layered and brilliantly crafted...I'm in a quandary. The book is undoubtedly brilliant but it left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied

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Salon

Excellent
Reviewed by Laura Miller on Mar 21 2002

...a story that permits us to observe any wrongdoing from a comfortable distance. Once we’re caught in his snare, though, McEwan takes us deep into far more menacing territory.

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London Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Frank Kermode on Oct 04 2001

McEwan has examined this territory with intelligent and creative attention, and it could probably be said that no contemporary of his has shown such passionate dedication to the art of the novel.

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New York Magazine

Excellent
Reviewed by Daniel Mendelsohn on Mar 18 2002

...Atonement's postmodern surprise ending is the perfect close to a book that explores, with beauty and rigor, the power of art and the limits of forgiveness.

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Scholars And Rogues

Above average
Reviewed by scholarsandrogues on Sep 30 2014

Basically, what McEwan asks of us is that we who have willingly suspended our disbelief to follow the novel’s narrative arc accept that we’ve been duped by a clever writer...This gimmick – or trick, which is what it feels more like – undercuts the novel’s power. It’s an unnecessary twist.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by inkers on Feb 03 2015

Ian McEwan's writing is brilliant. Just when I thought the story is slowing down, the pace picks up and sucks me in again. With beautiful language and imagery painting a clear picture...I would recommend this book to anyone. It was inspiring and compelling, and, I think, deserves to be a part of the literary canon.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Margaret on Nov 20 2010

Encompassing the effects of immaturity, war, love, and forgiveness, McEwan is able to create a surprisingly original novel...Eloquent description adds fluency to the narrative, making for an enjoyable read...Through his characters, themes, and unique storyline, McEwan has created a literary masterpiece for all readers.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Janelle C on Nov 04 2010

The book was beautiful. The prose, story line, down to the last word, were beautiful. Ian McEwan wove an intricate web with his words and a plot about the consequences of a 13-year-old fabricating a story...Atonement is, and will remain, one of my favorites.

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Things Mean a Lot

Good
Reviewed by Ana S. on Aug 27 2010

I loved Atonement from the very first page: I loved McEwan’s precise writing, his attention to detail, and his expert handling of multiple points of view...I loved that the book immediately promised to be highly satisfying at a pure storytelling level, in addition to everything else...

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The Blue Bookcase

Good
Reviewed by Christina on Nov 17 2010

About a hundred pages in, I felt myself losing the ability to write an objective, rational review. Barring the sudden appearance of, I don't know, dragons or spaceships or werewolves, I knew I was going to give this book an on-the-shelf, five-star, giddily gushing A+.

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Book Chatter

Good
Reviewed by Ti on Oct 28 2010

Atonement is a multifaceted little gem of a book...This is one of those books that is a bit of everything. There’s a love story, betrayal, the loss of innocence, war and the whole theme of atonement itself…it’s just so rich. So full... It’s one of those books that will make you love reading all over again.

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She Treads Softly Blog

Good
Reviewed by Lori L on Apr 14 2008

Atonement by Ian McEwan is unquestionably a brilliant novel... In Atonement, McEwan has written an incredible novel with fine characterization and a gripping plot. The themes question truth, justice, guilt, innocence, punishment, and, ultimately, atonement.

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Estella's Revenge

Good
Reviewed by Andi on Feb 25 2011

What I love most about McEwan's writing...is his grasp of the intangible. McEwan manages to put thoughts, emotions, and nuance into words in such a way that it takes my breath away...Simply put, it's just a breathtaking, finely-crafted, beautifully written novel. In fact, I would count it among my all-time favorites.

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Reading Matters

Good
Reviewed by kimbofo on Nov 10 2002

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2002, part one of this novel features some of the best fiction I have ever read. Set on the hottest day of the summer of 1934, it evokes very richly the individual lives of a family living in a lavish country house...

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The Independent Review

Below average
Reviewed by kelseyrolfe on Feb 18 2012

I knew the plot of Atonement before I read the book, so maybe the fact that nothing came as a surprise to me influenced my thoughts on it, but it took me so long to read and I just felt like the entire novel was an utter waste...As for the book itself, I think the story could have been told more succinctly in less pages.

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The New Canon

Good
Reviewed by Ted Gioia

But the real draw to this book is not the complex story line, but rather McEwan’s sheer mastery of the narrative

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http://allreaders.com

Below average
Reviewed by Nicholas Marini on Mar 12 2014

One of the worst books I have ever read: it is non sensical and lacks true substance. The books flashbacks make it unclear as to what is happening and most of the book is spent backpeddling to catch up with what happened. Definitely a book that is easy to put down.

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Wessex Scene

Good
Reviewed by Emily Anderson on Jan 24 2011

The variety of genres the novel covers and the focus it puts upon the plight of the individual makes it the perfect read for all.

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Reader Rating for Atonement
73%

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