Atonement is one of my favourite films – ever.
Dare I say, it’s one of those occasions where the film is slightly better than the novel… although it may be a sin for me to compare the two as each are great in their own right, particularly as they have slightly different endings.
Set in England just before World War 2, we meet thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis who is fiercely ambitious and smart, yet still so naïve, young, foolish and ignorant. She is comprised of the latter as the novel describes her trying to atone for her severe mistake that costs the life of Robbie Turner in more ways than one, as well as others who she has ruined, all from the result of a small, naïve misunderstanding involving the tragic rape of cousin Lola.
Briony’s wild mind sets her further apart from her older sister Cecilia as she seeks forgiveness from her and Robbie.
Although slightly complex, McEwan’s writing is pure literary fiction at its finest and beautifully written, albeit tragic and full of flawed characters in his true style.
As the war breaks out, we see Briony has lost her identity as she embarks on her quest for atonement as she relinquishes her name, only to seen as Nurse Tallis at St Thomas’ hospital in London, a far cry from her spoilt, lavish childhood in her parents’ country home where she would write plays, read and play with her cousins for the North.
The story is dark and full of solitude as Briony refuses to let her family know much about her life as a nurse (nor does Cecilia care to know), throwing herself into the deep and nasty end of her work at the hands of cold Sister Drummond. The frequent brushing and rubbing of her hands to get them clean – is it a foolish way of trying to remove her sins? To punish herself more by putting herself through pain like Cecilia and Robbie?
A chance event brings the sisters back together again, albeit briefly. Can Briony seek Cecilia and Robbie’s forgiveness? Can she ever atone for her mistake?
Nurse Tallis has not totally given up her identity as she continues to write and submit her work as a playwright, writing an alternative ending for her sister and Robbie’s romance from her misunderstanding of the ‘Two Figures by a Fountain’.
In what is a truly tragically flawed story, the storytelling is far from it. It is breath taking, heart-breaking and moving, as her dark retelling reveals her true understanding of her mistake and how she is atoning for her actions.
A beautiful, yet heavy read for fans of Ian McEwan and other literates – not one for the commercial, fast paced type!
Rating – 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre – historical fiction, bildungsroman, psychological fiction