REVIEW Atonement: Ian McEwan


I hadn’t heard of Ian McEwan until I decided to read Atonement for the Guardian challenge, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The arrival of her brother Leon has the over-imaginative Briony Tallis in a tizzy, and when she witnesses some intimate exchanges between her sister Cecilia and the gardener’s son Robbie Turner, she assumes that he is an oversexed monster. So when her cousin Lola is raped later that night, she accuses Robbie of the crime, resulting in his being sent to prison. Three years later, we meet Robbie at the warfront, wounded but desperate to return to Cecilia, and Briony who regrets her false accusations and wants to atone for them.

To tell you the truth, I found the first half of the book, set in the Tallis household, tedious. I did not care for any of the characters, the prose was long-winding at times, and I found it difficult to get through. I was totally disgusted by Briony, though; the vindictiveness she showed in relying on inaccuracies of her mind to send the innocent Robbie to prison was shocking.

But the book picked up in the second half. McEwan’s descriptions of the retreat were heartrending and evocative. I felt sympathy towards Robbie and his love for Cecilia, and his desperation to be reunited with her, which keeps him going despite his grievous injuries. Cecilia’s words “I’ll wait for you. Come back” are like a haunting refrain throughout the book. The war, and its effects on people, are also written about quite evocatively, and you feel for the soldiers. The ending was quite a surprise, and turned the story around. But honestly, I had a lot of trouble getting through the book; it was too wordy and long-winding for my taste, and I barely finished it. I actually appreciated it more after watching the movie; James McAvoy and Kiera Knightley pitched in with inspired performances.

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15 Responses
  1. Anna Says:

    I tried reading this one awhile back, but I couldn't get past the first 20 pages. Glad to know it picks up later on in the book. Is it okay if I link to your review on War Through the Generations?

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. Shweta Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Shweta Says:

    I think this was a book I really hated for one reason. The ending. I was frustrated. After having read through I thought ' Was I reading all this just for this ending?'.

    Anyways it is memorable book . I guess I would have easily forgotten if it had any other kind of ending.

    Nice review

  4. Hazra Says:

    @Anna: Yeah, sure!
    @Shweta: I thought the ending was memorable too, but I was quite frustrated throughout the rest of the book.

  5. I have to admit that I wasn't that taken with the ending for the same reason! Have you seen the film? That is not perfect but I think it is a pretty good reflection of the book... Thanks for sharing, Hannah

  6. AnimeGirl Says:

    I tried to read this one but I couldn't get into it, even though my friend said it was super romantic I didn't get it.


  7. historyofshe Says:

    Ahh, I loved the movie-- definitely a tear fest. I've only read one of McEwan's books, Enduring Love, and wasn't all that impressed. I can't actually remember what it was about. Something about a hot air balloon...

  8. Old Kitty Says:


    I'm with everyone else on this one I'm afraid (not seen the film tho - maybe I should!). The first few pages... good grief!

    But on the plus side - it's payday so I can get that Simoqin Prophecies!

    Take care

  9. bermudaonion Says:

    Maybe I need to watch the movie. I enjoyed the book, but the ending just left me baffled.

  10. Nymeth Says:

    I want to read this book, but I have no idea whether I'll like it. I've seen reviews that make me think yes and others that make me think no. Yours makes me think maybe :P

  11. Josette Says:

    Oh dear, wordy and long-winded? But it's sounds like such a compelling story! The movie must have followed the book closely since most of the details are the same.

    It's alright, I'll still read the book. :) Thanks for the honest review!

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