My white whale! I have been trying and failing to read Atonement for about three years, so I am excited to say that not only have I finished it, but I really enjoyed it!
The other times I have started reading, I have remained stuck in the book’s opening section, which covers the course of one summer day in the 1935 at the country house of the Tallis family. The Tallis’ youngest child, Briony, is a precocious creative sort who has written a play she wants her recently arrived cousins to perform with her. The Tallis’ middle child, Cecilia, is home from college for the summer and drifting somewhat aimlessly as she tries to determine what to do next. The Tallis’ oldest child, Leon, is bringing a friend to join them for dinner. In addition to the Tallis children, the groundskeeper’s son, Robbie, plays a large role. He is also home from college for the summer (the Tallis’ often absent patriarch, who works for the British secret service, thinks highly of Robbie and equality and so has paid for his undergraduate courses) and thinking about medical school.
All of this first section is very well written but has a hothouse feel due to the single summer day setting, amplified by many statements of foreboding that something awful is coming. You get to really like the characters, so waiting for Something Awful to happen kept making me reluctant to pick this one back up- and then I kept having to reread the same foreboding sections!! (I did it to myself). This time I persevered and made it through the Something Awful and while it IS awful, the rest of the story is interesting and redemptive and incredibly well written, so I’m so glad I made it through (the next two sections shift forward in timeline and narrator perspective- we follow Robbie as is sent with the army into France at the start of WWII, before their disastrous retreat to Dunkirk and much later we follow Briony as an elderly woman writer, putting the finishing touches on what we assume is the book’s foreboding first section.
Atonement was shortlisted for a Booker and I agree with that recognition- McEwan is an incredibly gifted writer; he captures character so well- the minor motivations, the atmosphere that shifts moods, the feelings that go unnamed but linger- and his plots are realistic but still move the action forward. I am so glad I finally finished this, highly recommend it.
Cbr13bingo White Whale!