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Monday, December 11, 2006


Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful:

October 14, 2003

Here's how I can best illustrate the feeling of reading this book: imagine Game 7 of the World Series, top of the ninth, the home team up by a run, bases loaded, the count is 3-2 to the hitter at the plate. Everyone is waiting for that last pitch to decide the game one way or another. The pitcher gets ready to throw, the crowd holds its breath...and the pitcher throws to first base. Then he walks around the mound to gather his thoughts, has a meeting with the catcher, gathers his thoughts again, shakes off a few signs, and then just as the crowd can take no more, he rears back and gets that last strike and the crowd goes wild.

McEwan is like that pitcher on the mound--so slow and deliberate with the first part of the book that it's like Chinese water torture. The night when everything changes in Briony's life unfolds so slowly that any reader who isn't patient is going to get tired of the book before it really hits its stride. I had to force myself to keep going on faith alone that it was going to get better, that things would start HAPPENING soon, that all this Victorianesque society garbage (where the high drama is what to wear and whether or not to cook a roast on a hot day) would be worth it.

And like the pitcher in my analogy, it is worth it when McEwan throws a perfect strike. The writing is solid, the important characters are well-described and have real flaws, and once it gets going there's the drama pulling me in. I always wanted to know what would happen next. What would happen to Robbie and Cecelia and Briony?

What really got to me was the end. I won't spoil it for readers, but it was so touching that I almost cried. As someone who writes, I can see a lot of Briony in myself and my own work, and her thoughts about writing at the end really gave me pause to take a good look at myself and what I'm doing. The end took me so by surprise and was so satisfying, that I can easily look past any small flaws with this book and give it the five stars it deserves.

If you can get through the first 150 or so pages, the rest is worth it. Don't take my word for it, find out for yourself. You'll be glad you did.

I have read many recent Pulitzer winners like "Middlesex", "Empire Falls", and "Kavalier and Clay", but none of them satisfied me on such an intellectual and emotional level. If you wanted to go find my reviews of all those (which you don't), you'd see that all of them, while great books, had minor problems that couldn't be overlooked. Other than the slow beginning, however, "Atonement" has no real problems for me in its plot or writing style.

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