Friday, May 15, 2009

Atonement (Ian McEwan)

It is with a heavy, defeated heart that I finally give to you the review for this, the slowest book ever written. It took me four weeks to get barely over a third of the way through, and I just can't do it anymore. It's too painful, somebody (I'm looking at you, Genoshans) please put me out of my misery. ::SIGH:: Here is my review, a white flag waving in the face of ::coughcough:: "great" literature, the sigil of my botched attempt at completing what John Updike referred to as "A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama." Yeah, right.


I would like to start off by saying that Atonement is actually a beautifully written book. Ian McEwan is a master at painting a scene and showing off all of its details from every possible angle. Unfortunately, that's also what makes the book so slow.

I'm not even sure how to begin describing to you the main story of the novel. Basically, a young girl named Briony makes a mistake in identifying a man who she sees raping her cousin, and accuses her older sister Cecilia's new lover, Robbie, changing all of their lives forever and forcing Briony to deal with her mistake for the rest of her life. The problem is, this event, the main, driving event of the story, takes place about 150 pages into a 350-page novel. The book does not get off to a running start. In fact, it doesn't even get off to a walking start. When the book starts, it's half-asleep, and doesn't really even know that it's begun. McEwan uses his ability to paint striking scenes in the worst way possible: by painting the exact same scenes over and over and over again, from every possible vantage point. Minor, possibly even trivial events are painstakingly written out. It's exhausting. There are entire chapters devoted to lone conversations, followed by more chapters chronicling those same conversations, but from someone else's point of view. The repetition is tedious and does little to get the story moving at all, which is disappointing, since the infrequent movement that is displayed is quite intriguing. At one point Robbie attempts to write a letter to Cecilia explaining how he feels about her, but in his frustration over not being able to find the right way to say things, he types out the naughty things that he actually wants to do to her. He then types out a new, clean letter, but the naughty letter is still sent to Cecilia accidentally. This is the first true moment of tension or conflict that moves the story at all, but it doesn't come until almost 100 pages in.

I wanted to like this book a lot, and purposefully haven't seen the film adaptation because I didn't want it to have any impact on my reading. I may make an attempt at rereading this book again in the future, though. Maybe it speeds up? Maybe the ending turns everything around and makes the rest of the book okay? I don't know. I'm interested in hearing what anyone else who has finished the book has to say about it. I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who enjoyed it, and I'd love to hear why. For me it was a let down.


by Ian McEwan

I'm sure it was going somewhere, and the characters were well-written and vivid, but it needs to move along a little—okay, A LOT—faster.

I get that the book was supposed to be about how Briony has to "atone" for her past mistakes, but with a slow-moving story and the forced repetition of the scenes, the themes become overstated. I wouldn't nominate McEwan for any subtlety awards.

It was slow and painful. I wouldn't recommend this book unless you've got a huge chunk of time to murder.


Again, I might take another crack at this book at some point in the near future. I'm interested to see how it varies from the film, and what the director did to smooth out those pacing issues.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

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