Book - 2002 | Vintage Canada edition
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The novel opens on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the Tallis family's mansion in the Surrey countryside. Thirteen-year-old Briony has written a play in honor of the visit of her adored older brother Leon; other guests include her three young cousins -- refugees from their parent's marital breakup -- Leon's friend Paul Marshall, the manufacturer of a chocolate bar called "Amo" that soldiers will be able to carry into war, and Robbie Turner, the son of the family charlady whose brilliantly successful college career has been funded by Mr. Tallis. Jack Tallis is absent from the gathering; he spends most of his time in London at the War Ministry and with his mistress. His wife Emily is a semi-invalid, nursing chronic migraine headaches. Their elder daughter Cecilia is also present; she has just graduated from Cambridge and is at home for the summer, restless and yearning for her life to really begin. Rehearsals for Briony's play aren't going well; her cousin Lola has stolen the starring role, the twin boys can't speak the lines properly, and Briony suddenly realizes that her destiny is to be a novelist, not a dramatist.

In the midst of the long hot afternoon, Briony happens to be watching from a window when Cecilia strips off her clothes and plunges into the fountain on the lawn as Robbie looks on. Later that evening, Briony thinks she sees Robbie attacking Cecilia in the library, she reads a note meant for Cecilia, her cousin Lola is sexually assaulted, and she makes an accusation that she will repent for the rest of her life.

The next two parts of Atonement shift to the spring of 1940 as Hitler's forces are sweeping across the Low Countries and into France. Robbie Turner, wounded, joins the disastrous British retreat to Dunkirk. Instead of going up to Cambridge to begin her studies, Briony has become a nurse in one of London's military hospitals. The fourth and final section takes place in 1999, as Briony celebrates her 77th birthday with the completion of a book about the events of 1935 and 1940, a novel called Atonement .

In its broad historical framework Atonement is a departure from McEwan's earlier work, and he loads the story with an emotional intensity and a gripping plot reminiscent of the best nineteenth-century fiction. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is a profoundly moving exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.
Publisher: Toronto :, Vintage Canada,, [2002]
Edition: Vintage Canada edition
Copyright Date: ©2002
ISBN: 9780676974560
Branch Call Number: F MCE
Characteristics: 371 pages ; 21 cm
Alternative Title: Atonement : a novel


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Nov 09, 2020

I love to read about cosmology and quantum physics, but quantum universes within one cover I’m not sure about...
This McEwan title had me engaged at least...
The idea of class in England in the 1930s, and how it massively changed within a couple decades, is fascinating.
Then again... Lords are still a leaping, aren’t they...?
In the comments, I see that many of us are not entranced with the slow pace of endless description... too much like real life. Hurry up with the good stuff! (... stop reading McEwan!)

Mar 21, 2020

Was it a good story? Yes BUT all the editors and publishers are afraid of Ian McEwan to the point they are scared to edit the crap out of his self centered babbling on and on and on and on just to hear himself wax poetic about every damned thing. I skipped huge tracks just to get through the crap and get to the end to find out if that little brat got her comeuppance.

Mar 29, 2019

Dark and tragic, this well written modern literary novel is a study of personal atonement for past wrongs. At the heart of the story is an upper-class British family who are involved in a deeply tragic romance. I greatly enjoyed the book, but the first third literally plods along at a snail's pace before the action picks up during the war years.

Feb 10, 2019

A masterpiece. I have truly enjoyed every single text by McEwan that I have read and this novel is no exception. The plot, the narrative perspective, the tone, the literary references or imitations of various authors of the 1930s or 1940s (the period when the story takes place), the originality - compared to those literary references... Everything contributes to creating a novel that offers reflections on various serious subjects (guilt, social mobility, love, responsibility…) while being entertaining.
Of course, it does not hurt that McEwan writes some of the best sex scenes of literature. Robbie and Cecilia's lovemaking is depicted so much better than Grey and Anastasia's… ;-)

Apr 02, 2018

Wow. What a great novel. It really pulls you in, although it can seem a bit too slow at the start, but that's part of the magic. It's a slow day in a big house on a huge tract of land and the only place for the girl to put her energy and her intelligence is in watching the people around her (and then jumping to all the wrong conclusions and screwing up everyone's lives!).

ArapahoeKati Jan 29, 2018

It's incredible to see the ramifications of how one lie told by a child impacts the lives of everyone around her. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are fully realized, and the end made me ugly cry over this love story.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 02, 2016

A gorgeous novel. Its layers unveil new subtleties with each reading. I cannot read the final pages without being stirred emotionally.

Nov 19, 2014

Ian Mc Ewan's portrayal of the world of Briony Tallis from 1935, through the years of WWII and beyond is quite brilliant. In modern parlance she was the spoilt, often neglected, highly fanciful afterthought in a large British family with servants who lived in an ugly old mansion with a sprawling garden. She went on to work through the war as a nurse and later became a noted novelist.The ramifications of the lie she told about the incident she saw when she was 13 in 1935 affected so many lives.The characters are entirely believable.The various styles of novel writing all play a part in the development of the story. The title is apt but life is never simple..The novel translated to an excellent film.

antonio_brewbrew Aug 26, 2014


Jul 26, 2014

Not a bad read, but I found it a little slow in the second part. It's interesting because, in my mind, not alot happens in the book in terms of events, but the reader is given alot to think about. Great for a book club!

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May 09, 2018

OfMazesandMages thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

Aug 30, 2015

VV12 thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

Jun 01, 2011

vchuynh thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over


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Jun 04, 2011

This whole story is based on a misunderstanding that goes horribly wrong. Cecilia, a young woman is home for the summer from school. Robbie, the gardener's son is also at home. Cecilia decides to put some flowers in a very expensive vase to welcome the arrival of her brother and his friend. She sees Robbie in the garden and he volunteers to do this for Cecilia, however she wants to do it herself, as they fight to hold the vase, the handle breaks off and it falls into a fountain. Cecilia must retrieve the handle so she strips down to her underwear to dive into the fountain to retrieve it. As she emerges from the fountain, Briony her younger sister sees this from the window and sees Robbie watching her soaking wet sister in her underwear. Meanwhile, the brother and his friend arrive and he invites Robbie to dinner. Robbie decides to attend, and bring a note for Cecilia as he has fallen for her. He makes up many different drafts including a very vile and sexual note as a joke. He finally decides on a note and as he is getting dressed, he quickly picks up the note and heads out. He sees Briony playing outside on the outskirts of the property and he decides its better for Cecilia to see the note before he arrives so he gives the note to Briony to give to Cecilia. Shortly after, he realizes he gave the wrong note to Briony. Briony out of curiosity reads it before actually giving it to Cecilia. When Robbie arrives, he and Cecilia go into the library and he tries to explain to Cecilia. They both realize they are in love and they make love in the library. At the same time, Briony is looking for Cecilia and sees Robbie and her in the library in way such that Robbie looks like he is in an attacking position. During that night, the friend that was visiting the family with the brother rapes the family's cousin who is living with them. The police come and Briony tells them all she has seen and misunderstood. The cousin that was raped did not see who it was because it happened in the dark outside. The police end up arresting Robbie. Robbie must go to war. Cecilia is enraged, cannot stay with her family any longer decides to become a nurse. Briony does as well. Years later, Briony realizes that the friend is the one who raped her cousin, especially after she learns they are getting married. Briony continually tries to atone for her actions. Alas, Robbie dies at war, Cecilia also dies in a flood. All because of a misunderstanding.


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TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 06, 2016

A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.


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