which narrowly missed being awarded the prestigious Booker
Prize, feels like the kind of book that could only have been
written by one of the English greats - and deserves to be
ranked up there with perennial classics we all have to pore
over during boring English Literature lessons. However, what
marks this as a modern treasure is the fact that we have not
one, not two but three masterfully crafted segments which
can singularly stand alone if need be – encompassing
an expansive period novel, a psychologically penetrating war
account from various different perspectives, and a hauntingly
painful and reflective epilogue.
part of the novel lifts us out of our armchair and plunks
us right smack in the middle of a claustrophobic domestic
crisis that becomes a crime story focusing on an even that
changes the lives of several persons in an upper-middle-class
country home in a hot English summer’s day in 1935.
We are introduced to young Briony Tallis, a hyperimaginative
13 year old girl who witnesses a seemingly baffling exchange
between her older sister, Cecilia, and their neighbour cum
housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, a fellow Cambridge
student subsidized by the Tallis family. Briony misconstrues
certain sequences, to dire consequences, and we see how she
subsequently tries to spend her life making up for this tragedy.
part of the book moves forward five years to focus on Robbie,
freed from a jail stint after Briony’s accusations and
part of the British Army that was cornered and eventually
evacuated by a fleet of small boats at Dunkirk during the
early days of WWII. Crimes of war are witnessed at close quarters,
not only among enemies, but among the Brits themselves. This
gives a fascinating imagined recount of what Britain has in
later years come to see as some kind of victory.
third part, we see Briony, now a young woman and a nurse in
Cecilia’s former hospital, struggling to come to terms
with the war and humanity as she knows it, as well as trying
to atone for the sins of her past. We witness the change in
Briony as she begins to come to terms with what she has done
that fateful summer so many years ago, and offers to make
amends to him and Cecilia, now together as lovers.
offers up Briony as an aged novelist in present times in the
epilogue, and builds up to a resonating conclusion which intertwines
both hard facts and her sustained flights of fancy. Even though
this book is only of average length, it has the feel of a
complex family saga, due to the fact that McEwan painstakingly
delves into the consciousness of his main characters as they
attempt to deal with the events leading up to the tragedy,
as well as their individual psyches after the event occurs.
At once closely personal and wonderfully expansive, McEwan
has once again managed to create a stunning masterpiece of
psychological drama with a masterfully modern twist.
by Ninart Lui