Usually I prefer to read the book before seeing the film but with Atonement I happened to do this the other way around. Surprisingly I don’t think it damaged the book at all, in fact, I found myself gripped despite knowing what was going to happen. As it turns out the film is very accurate to the book so there wasn’t much to surprise you. Sometimes this also helps as you’re never disappointed by the choice of actors given that you’ve read the book with the film’s actors in mind. So, in my mind Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy were perfect for the leads.
The story begins during Briony’s childhood when she is writing a play for her cousins to perform. This aspect of the story really explores Briony’s domineering nature and her naivety as she begins to see things she doesn’t understand and puts the pieces of Cecilia and Robbie’s puzzle of a relationship together in a non-comprehending manner. The scenes throughout the first part of the novel are beautifully written, both descriptive and really engaging as the reader gets to know Briony so well…so well in fact that the events that unfold are almost predictable. The narrative continues until the climatic moment when Briony’s cousin Lola gets raped. After confusing the events of the past couple of days and wrongly accusing Robbie, his life makes a major turn for the worse. He is sent to Dunkirk and comes across the usual struggles of being a soldier. Meanwhile Briony and Cecilia train as nurses but the real question is – will Cecilia and Robbie ever be reunited?
Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the twist in this novel I found totally convincing and unpredictable if not a little annoying in the ‘it was all just a dream’ kind of fashion. Although, at the same time, I found Briony’s reflection on the mistakes she made as a child really interesting and sincere. It surprised me that a male author especially could get inside a teenage girls’s head so much but I suppose that’s McEwan for you – he always manages to surprise his readers in some way.
The best thing about this book for me was the unique plot and the way it was sectioned into childhood and adulthood etc. which broke it up thoughtfully. Also the twist for me really made the book. Even if you’re not a McEwan fan, which I know is the case with a lot of my friends, I would recommend giving this a go. It’s sad and heart-wrenching at times so make sure you have tissues close by but definitely worth a read.