It’s too late for me, but there still might be time to save you.
Having meant to read it for years, I checked out the audiobook for Atonement a couple of months ago from Overdrive. It was beautiful. Even though I was already familiar with the plot thanks to the 2007 film, I was captivated by the characters and lyrical writing. I was also pleased with how quickly the story was moving along.
But then Robbie was in France way too quickly and I started getting suspicious.
I went back to the Overdrive website, and my worst fears were confirmed: I was listening to an abridged version. I never read abridged novels. Never. So I sadly returned the book on principle and figured it would be a few years before I’d be able to start over without being completely bored.
Two weeks later, I had purchased an unabridged audiobook and finished the entire novel from the beginning. I was never even bothered by the repetition. Ian McEwan’s writing is just that good.
Basically, if you’re crazy like me and feel like reading unabridged keeps you on some imaginary intellectual or moral high ground, save yourself some time and avoid the audiobook copy on Overdrive (I still love you with all my heart, Overdrive!). Luckily we have unabridged copies of Atonement as ebooks, on CD, in print, and in a book club set.
You’re welcome, my people.
Atonement is a real thinker of a book (to use the terminology of literary scholars) that left me pondering about individual perceptions, deceit, and restitution. On a life-altering day in 1934, 13-year-old Briony witnesses two private interactions between her older sister Cecilia and family friend Robbie Turner. With a mix of precociousness and immaturity, Briony misinterprets what she sees, ultimately making false accusations that reverberate through numerous lives.
This critically acclaimed novel is one of the most beautiful I’ve read, and I’m happy to share a few tidbits about it today:
- Atonement was inspired in part by the stories McEwan’s father told about his time as a WWII soldier. Having been gunned down by a German tank on the Continent, the elder McEwan survived, was transported back to England and spent six months in a Liverpool hospital.
- The author is known for carefully researching before writing his novels and has said, “It is an eerie, intrusive matter, inserting imaginary characters into actual historical events. A certain freedom is suddenly compromised; as one crosses and recrosses the lines between fantasy and the historical record, one feels a weight obligation to strict accuracy. In writing about wartime especially, it seems like a form of respect for the suffering of a generation wrenched from their ordinary lives to be conscripted into a nightmare.”
- In the acknowledgements, McEwan thanked Lucilla Andrews for her autobiography, No Time for Romance, which described her experiences as a war nurse and helped inform his novel. Readers later accused McEwan of plagiarizing her work, which he denied, though he again acknowledged his debt to her book. Famous authors including John Updike, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood defended him.
- Though he occasionally uses humor in his works, McEwan remains committed to serious themes, saying, “I hate comic novels; it’s like being wrestled to the ground and being tickled, being forced to laugh.”
- He has even been dubbed Ian Macabre due to the dark nature of his works.
- Shockingly, Atonement was originally conceived as “a science fiction story set two or three centuries in the future.” I have a hard time picturing this.
- In the critically acclaimed 2007 film adaptation of the novel, Keira Knightley was initially considered for the role of 18-year-old Briony before being cast as Cecilia (eventually the role went to Ramola Garai).
- Twelve-year-old Saoirse Ronan played 13-year-old Briony, ultimately becoming the seventh youngest person ever nominated for best supporting actress.