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Author: Ian McEwan
372 Pages
Publisher: Vintage Paperback
ISBN: 9780099507383
Price: S$15.95





Atonement, 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.

The first 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.

The second 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.

In the 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.

McEwan 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 epic proportions.


Classic psychological drama with a masterfully modern twist.

Review by Ninart Lui


. Atonement (Movie)



is available in all good bookstores


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