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December 6, 2007

Atonement (MTI)There are a handful of books that really stand out in my mind as being some of the most beautiful works of fiction that I have had the pleasure of reading. The Kite Runner was an emotionally wrought book that kept up a swift pace and was just a perfect read. The Red Tent, which I read twice and reviewed back in July here had all the elements I love in a good piece of fiction – passion, love, suffering and family dynamics. A Prayer for Owen Meany, Little Women, Memoirs of a Geisha, Beach Music – each one has a special place in my memory as unforgettable stories.

Then there is Atonement by Ian McEwan, a book I literally just finished a few hours ago. I wish I could do this book justice by my review, but I know already that whatever I write cannot describe the absolute enormity of feelings that I had while reading this book. The characters were so well fleshed out, the plot moves at a perfect pace, the story so multi-layered that I was just blown away.

From the back of the book:

On a summer day in 1935, thirteen year old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

From the very first chapter I began to feel for these characters. Dramatic Briony, who in the absence of her depressed, migraine laden mother, spends countless hours alone working on her literary pursuits, fine tuning her active imagination. Her older sister, Cecelia, who has to take up the slack for her mother in running the Tallis household and is a little unsure of herself and her place in society. Then there’s Robbie, who is looking forward to his upcoming medical schooling and has been silently brooding over Cecilia for years.

The book itself is full of situations misinterpreted and words gone unsaid. The author writes with such fluidity and has a wonderful talent for being so descriptive. I love how he describes a simple object like a dirty dish towel:

The labor in the kitchen had been long and hard all day in the heat, and the residue was everywhere: the flagstone floor was slick with the spilt grease of roasted meat and trodden in peel; sodden tea towels, tributes to heroic forgotten labors, drooped above the range like decaying regimental banners in church.

See what I mean? And this simple sentence about guilt just says so much:

How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime.

If you have a book club and are looking for a great book for discussion, read Atonement. If you are looking for something to read the next time your on vacation, read Atonement. If you commute on the train to work, read Atonement. Whatever you are doing or wherever you are, make sure to read this book. You won’t be disappointed.

The movie version of Atonement (staring Keira Knightley) will be released tomorrow. You can see a trailer and learn more about the story at Amazon’s special movie page.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2007 8:29 am

    Wow! I haven’t read this one, but I LOVE when a book touches me like that. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. December 7, 2007 3:07 pm

    I just added this to my wish list today and think it will be my next read. Right now I am really enjoying Eat, Pray, Love!

  3. December 7, 2007 3:56 pm

    Thank you for posting this review! I have a copy somewhere in the house, on loan from my father. I saw the previews for this movie and knew instantly that I must see it, I just don’t know if I will read the book or see the movie first!

  4. December 7, 2007 6:13 pm

    Oh dear friend! Thanks for the review – it couldn’t have come at a better time as my semester ended today & I’m off to find my first (of many) good book to climb into this weekend. If I can get my hands on this at the library it’s mine – hell, I might even buy it. Now there’s a concept.

    Hope all is well with you & the family.

    PS>Did you get the CNY invite in the mail? Seriously, no pressure – but the offer still stands.

  5. December 7, 2007 7:08 pm

    I just looked longingly at this book, the other day, when I took kiddo to the store to grab the next in whatever series he’s reading (he had to have it that day or he would surely not survive – do I have a great kid, or what?). You’ve sold me. Thanks, terrific review!

  6. December 9, 2007 6:28 am

    Thanks for the review. My list of books to read keeps piling up to the ceiling, but I’ll put this on the list.

  7. December 9, 2007 11:46 am

    I almost bought that last night! Now, I wish I had. I picked up The Queen’s Fool instead. Got to finish those Phillipa Gregory books, you know…

    As I walked around the store, I just kept thinking how am I ever going to find the time to read all the books I want to read!

    I’ll add Atonement to my Christmas list.

  8. December 10, 2007 12:45 pm

    Funny, I’ve owned ATONEMENT for over a year and haven’t started reading yet but I will now 🙂

    Thanks for the glowing review

  9. December 10, 2007 1:39 pm

    I read this book last year and counted it as one of my favorites of 2007. I’m going to go see the movie, although I would have preferred an unknown actress in the role of Cecilia, and the girl playing Briony is not how I pictured her. Still, I just hope it does the book justice. Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

  10. December 10, 2007 5:34 pm

    I just got this book from Borders because I want to see the movie, and your review makes it sound like an amazing story. I might have to put this ahead of all those other books just waiting to be read.

  11. December 13, 2007 10:40 am

    Thanks so much for your review. I was planning on heading over to Barnes & Noble today during my lunch break to find some good reads while I’m at my family’s over the holidays. I’ll put Atonement on my list!

  12. December 15, 2007 11:47 am

    I read this book last summer in TWO DAYS and loved it. I’ve been twisting the arm of anyone I’ve met since to get them to read it too, and I love your review.

    McEwan is just an all-around stunning author and, though Atonement ranks highly as my favorite of his works, every other books I’ve read of his (except Amsterdam – didn’t care much for that one) has been wonderful. I’m due for another one now, I think.

  13. December 17, 2007 3:58 am

    I loved Antonement as well, especially that first, absolutely devastating section. I was so shocked by what happened. I wasn’t as mad about the ending though, I though it weakened some of what came before. I agree that the writing is just gorgeous and I’m looking forward to the film.

  14. December 28, 2007 10:52 pm

    As I said on my site, I cannot wait to hear what you think of the film since you like the book so much.

    I have heard some negative criticism of the film calling it ‘soulless’ and eventhough I enjoyed seeing the movie I’m not sure that the criticism is too far off. For all its beauty and sadness the film certainly does little to make you feel deeply for the characters beyond the common bond of the pain of loss that we’ve all experienced.

  15. January 6, 2008 11:40 am

    It’s so good to hear that someone else loved this book as much as I. It was my #1 pick the year it came out. Definitely one to read again. Someday.

  16. Cassandra Camp permalink
    April 8, 2011 5:58 pm

    If you liked “Atonement”, be sure to read “Saturday” by the same author. Also, you will love “Bird Song” by Sebastian Faulks. Right up there with “Possession” by AS Byatt and (very different) “The Art of Racing in the Rain”.


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