Monday, April 16, 2012

Athena K's Review - Atonement

I finished this book a few months back, and it has taken me this long to finish a blog post about it. Its not that I didn't like this book - it was very well written, and the story sucked me in. Maybe because the end was so jarring - I sat back and reflected about the novel for a long time trying to piece the whole together. Maybe it is because it had come so highly recommended to me - and I really thought I would like this more. But having just finished watching the movie, I find my thoughts distilled enough to proceed.

Many people seem familiar with the plot: Briony is the youngest child in a affluent home. Out of boredom, powerlessness, naivete, and motives I'm not sure even Briony understood, she accuses a family friend of a horrible crime - and then suffers with the guilt of her knowledge for the rest of her life. Briony's choice to change the end of her story for her readers begs many interesting questions - what is the intrinsic value of honesty? How much guilt can and should a person suffer or self-apply in the aftermath of such an event? How much responsibility can be taken for the outcome of a series of events that one may have set in motion, but did not further contribute to?

Needless to say, the writing is exquisite. The story is vivid - especially in parts 2 and 3. describing the war scenes and the hospital. But the characters, while interesting, were not as compelling as I had hoped or maybe needed. Each of the main figures serves as a person and as a sort of allegory or type, which distanced my emotions from them in the book. Also, they were mostly annoying aristocratic types, which I did not connect well with. This was not so in the movie, which (unusually) was better in connecting my emotions to the rawness and tragedy of the plot in a way I was not able to in the book.

The film's ability to connect me to the story did not come without certain sacrifices. In the movie, many of the fascinating ambiguities are necessarily lost, and the story is reduced in its complexity. But perhaps that is precisely my problem with the book: the nuances and complexity were a bit too much to also permit a deep emotional connection. 

Instead of feeling the book was deeply meaningful, when I finished this book and put it down I was immediately over it. But watching the film has reminded me of the fantastic aspects of the book, and I find myself more than willing to keep and open mind and give it a re-read another time.

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