On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge.
By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.
This is a book that I was always going to read, for a number of reasons. The first was the "there's a movie" coming hype, where I think that a movie sounds interesting but I really want to read the book first. The second reason was that there was a LOT of Atonement love happening over at at one of the forums I am a member of (rather I should say IS a lot of love) and the third reason was that having read On Chesil Beach not too long ago and not minding it, I was curious as to whether I really would like to read more of McEwans books. The answer to that question, having read this book, is a definite yes. Of course, the fact that I liked this is no guarantee that I will like the others, but it's a good sign.
It is more difficult than usual for me to write about this book, because even to try to give basic explanations of plots will be to spoil. What I would say is that the love story that is contained within this book is very strong, thriving in spite of huge difficulties that are placed in its path, and has a star-crossed lovers feel to it.
There are three main setting in the novel - one the country estate that the Tallis' call home, where events take an unforeseen turn that very nearly destroys both one individual and a whole family. We also found ourselves in the desperate days just before the evacuation of the British troops at Dunkirk, and then again later in the hospitals of London as they try to cope with the influx of wounded. McEwan does a great job at giving each of these locations very distinct atmosphere and emotional charge without losing any of the emotional depth associated with the events that happen in each of these places.
As to whether the main character atones or not...well....I'm not sure she does, but she is definitely a character about whom it is not possible to be ambivalent.
Overall, a very satisfying read, and I am looking forward to seeing the movie now that I have finished the book!
Cross posted at Reading Adventures