A book hooks me or fails to hook me in the first ten pages. Atonement failed me miserably here. I attempted to read the book thrice in a span of 3 years and its only the third time that I managed to go past the first few chapters, allow myself to take in the book patiently and complete it.
The book does not stir your emotions untill almost 40% is completed. Way too many words and reader’s (atleast readers with my taste) time is wasted in the first 40% of the book excessively narrating the landscape and other sundry matters. Words spent on workings of Briony Talli’s mind also may appear to be wasteful when you are still in this first 40% portion of the book. However, as the subsequent events unfold you realise the importance of gaining an insight into this character’s mind. Infact the subsequent chapters do not pointedly explain the young Briony’s thought process and subsequent wailings. With the help of the seemingly extended narrative in the first chapters, the reader automatically understands the deepest corners of this character’s mind. You are left undecided on whether she remains a victim of her youth throughout the period discussed in the book or if you expect her maturity to have surfaced at some critical point to undo the damages of her acts performed in veiled innocence and under good intentions.
The remaining 60% of the book is emotionally gripping. It forces you to look at the eposide that can alternate as being the protagonist of the novel from three perspectives.
Briony Tallis – At what point of time do we expect a child to be mature and understand the wrongful implications of an act committed with no bad intention? Is it fair to expect a child to recognise the need to and gather courage, intelligence and strength to turn back on legally provided statements in order to relieve a childhood friend of legal punishment and social embarassment that lasts a lifetime? Is her true and abundant love for her sister a justifiable shield for her act that alienates someone she genuinely believed to be a wrong doer?
Robbie Turner – In the first 40% of the story, he is never shown to be the quintessential romantic novel hero whom a teenage reader falls in love with and holds as a benchmark in all her romantic indulgences in her life. He is never dealt with in such a manner till the end of the book. However, when the book focusses on him in the second part (the book is divided into three parts), you develop a strong emotion towards him. I dont use the word “liking” because there is nothing in that part which makes you distinctly “like” him. You sympathise with him – his wasted youth for no fault of his, his distance from the woman he loves and uncertainity surrounding his reunion with his lover in the backdrop of the war. You do tend to admire the strength of his mind through the journey from war torn France to England. You may expect someone who has had a bad run with luck to be dejected and hopeless. But you identify the source of his strength – he has a woman to go back home to. This is where you begin to recognise the “romance” in the novel. Many of us may recognise the strength the faraway love brings to his existence. Sometimes just a thought, however uncertain it maybe, works as a miracle drug. Sometimes the hopes and dreams for a future life with your lover, however distant, is just the rejuvenating therapy one needs. We have all experienced it. The second part of the book reiterates it beautifully. What I found to be most profound in McEwan’s writing is that he is never explicit about the emotions in his characters that he wants to convey. His narrative is so strong that a reader “understands” all that and more.
Cecilia Turner – For most part of the book, she is angry, let down and generally down cast. Circumstances force her to alienate herself from the family. Circumstances here imply love. Newly “realised” love. When it hits her, she realises that the emotions have had their foundation in her heart through early association with Robbie. Feelings never came to the surface of her heart, her life. Secretly built emotions in the deepest corners of her heart. When it surfaced, it hit her hard, it swept her away like a long lost friend. It made her turn her back against her family. All in a matter of a day of coming face to face with her new love. All this makes one see the power of love. No one can define it, no one can set its boundaries. Immensely strong girl. Once again, love and hopes that come with it is her source of strength.