#2. Atonement – Ian McEwan

If a book is made into a movie, I’m NEVER watching the movie before reading the book again.

It’s probably because the movie was so well-made – as I read the book, all the characters came to life in my head as the actors and actresses in the movie. The movie is one of my favourites and I watched it last semester and was absolutely in love with it. But because of my love for the movie, the book, though awesome, seemed sort of paler in comparison.

Nevertheless, McEwan is a genius – his writing is sheer poetry – and even things that would be described crudely by others are written with such finesse that reading the book left me in sheer despair – I dream of writing a novel someday and I honestly don’t think that I can EVER be as good. For example, his use of metaphors is very sui generis – subtle and yet, astoundingly accurate. Also, McEwan liberally uses stream-of-consciousness – and yet, it’s done so masterfully that much of the plot moves forward in the memory and thoughts of the characters.

Moreoever, being primarily a work of metafiction – McEwan expresses the self-doubts that plague any writer of fiction through the character of Briony Tallis. For example, in page 34 of the Vintage edition, McEwan articulates Briony’s wonderment at the distance between something that is deceptively mundane and yet, fraught with incomprehension –

“She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.”

Another thing I was astounded by is how Briony Tallis emerges from being a character that one despises for her self-righteous inanity and her loathesome ineptitude to do the right thing to a character you just can’t bring yourself to hate completely because you’ve seen so much of the story through her eyes. Perhaps, this ambivalence towards Briony (which makes her the most spectactularly carved out character in the book) was perhaps brought about less effectively in the movie as fans of the movie almost unequivocally express intense hatred for the character in online discussion forums.

McEwan also uses irony to great effect in the book. For example, Briony’s compulsive need for order and for neatly wrapped-up happy endings is irrevocably violated as she becomes the agent who wreaks havoc on other lives.

I loved the book, loved the movie even more and the movie’s OST EVEN more. So I recommend all three – staunchly.

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2 thoughts on “#2. Atonement – Ian McEwan

  1. I read the book first and thought the movie didn’t do it justice. I mean, it was nice, but a lot of what briony says in the book, just doesn’t come through in the movie. And the part about her having changed the ending, makes so much more sense in the book than in the movie. Like you said, it’s harder to hate the briony of the book than the movie.

    • Yeah – that’s true. But, you know, the movie seemed a lot more emotional than the book somehow. And apparently, this is McEwan’s most emotional book. But I completely agree that in the movie, Briony wasn’t given the portrayal the character deserved.

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