I have long wanted to read this novel, so when Rebel recommended it to me a couple of weeks ago on my villain post, I couldn't resist reading it as soon as possible. As with all of the recommendations I have received from my readers, I was not disappointed. I loved this novel! (Thanks so much, Rebel!) Rebel explained that it was a great historical fiction romance that was sad but not sappy, and I wholeheartedly concur.
Atonement is a fascinating novel on several levels. I love how complex Ian McEwan made all of his characters, especially the main three--Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony. Though sometimes these characters were hard to sympathize with, they were always real. I was particularly impressed with McEwan's skill in writing Briony, a character who could very easily be wholly despicable. I can't say I ever truly liked her, but she is far more interesting and three-dimensional than I had imagined and that made this novel far more unpredictable--and enjoyable--because of it. McEwan's eloquent and lyrical (but always effortless) style was also a huge plus for me. I liked the precise, lush historical details, as well. McEwan manages to capture the atmosphere of a troubled upper-middle class English home in 1935 and the horrors of WWII at Dunkirk and at British military hospitals. In fact, the war scenes make for some of the best military fiction I've read in awhile, though I know that's not the main focus of the story.I also enjoyed the structure that McEwan employed in telling this story. I am a huge fan of experimental plots, especially of the multi POV and non-linear variety. The first part of the novel focuses on that fateful summer day in 1935 when Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony's world is forever changed. Each chapter tells the story in third person narration from a different character's point of view, jumping through time and often retelling scenes in which more (or conflicting) information is presented through that character's perspective. If you prefer linear plots, this technique may drive you crazy, but I enjoyed it immensely, both for the literary technique involved and for the realistic way in which McEwan shows how different people perceive the same event in very different ways. After the superb first half, I expected to be somewhat disappointed with the remainder of the novel, which follows the characters through 1940. Instead, the historical detail and the compelling plot still kept me riveted. I especially enjoyed the ending--set in 1999. In my mind, the entire time I was reading this novel, my inner cynic kept thinking that I didn't want the ending to be happy, because that would just almost be too much of a cop-out (and I hate happily ever after story endings. *glares into distance whilst emoting*) But, at the same time, my more dreamy, secretly optimistic inner self wanted things to somehow be all right in the end--but not happily ever after. I was pleased that McEwan found a clever way to do both in concluding this novel.
Atonement is a haunting tale that probes the power of fiction, imagination, guilt, and--yes--atonement. It is also a wonderfully-crafted literary historical novel and an enjoyable, non-melodramatic romance. (Yes, I am bragging on a romance novel that was not written in the 19th century. No, this is not a sign of the coming apocalypse. :P) Now I am determined to get my hands on the acclaimed film based on this novel.
P.S. I must note, there is some adult content in this novel. Not a lot--I have certainly seen much worse elsewhere-- but there is enough that I would rather post a warning for my younger readers. (I don't want your parents beating me over the head with a blunt instrument for not giving fair warning.)
Next Week: I know you hear this a lot from me, but I am not sure. I have been reviewing a lot of literary fiction lately, so I want to try some genre fiction. I have a YA novel I have been meaning to read, plus some horror, a Western, and some other assorted books, so we'll see what I find. :P
This Week In Literary History: *cue organ music*
26 May 1895: Bram Stoker's infamous vampire novel Dracula first goes on sale in London. Derided as trashy at the time, Dracula has gone on to become one of the all-time great horror novels (and one of my absolute favorites.) Dracula may not have been the first fictional vampire, but he was the first to capture the public's interest. I am a big fan of Dracula--he was #1 on my list of literary villains a couple of weeks ago. Forget about Eddie the glitter vamp! I'm Team Dracula, because real vampires don't sparkle. :D