Monday, February 21, 2005

Making Amends

Okay, so while everyone is talking about Ian McEwan's new book, Saturday, I pass it by and read Atonement instead. I have never read McEwan before so I didn't know what to expect, only knew that he was supposedly good. Atonement is broken up into three parts and a sort of epilogue. While reading part one I feared that this was going to be one of those books that is all atmosphere and nothing really happens. The writing is smooth and has an ethereal feel to it, pleasant and dreamlike, but I wasn't wanting to read an entire book like that. Finally, something happens, something big. Lives are ruined, a family is torn apart. Part two takes place during World War Two at the time of the retreat of British troops from France near Dunkirk. This part of the book is so finely detailed that I had a nightmare that I was on an open road in France and a German Stuka was screaming out of the sky toward me, machine guns going. I started to run for the trees but they were so far away. I am glad that I woke up before I found out my fate. Obviously this portion of the book really got to me. Part three takes place in London and is all about Briony. Briony is the one who caused all of the trouble way back in part one. Back then she was 13 and dreaming of being a writer. She lived too much in her head, inventing melodramatic stories of love and romance. It is her imagination and her fierce desire to protect her older sister that leads her to her tragic error. Now she is learning to be a nurse and is a probationer in a ward in a London hospital. She finds her sister, who is also living in London, to tell her that she has realized she made a mistake all those years ago and she wants to fix it. She will go to the police and tell them the truth. Of course it is too late for that and what she has done cannot be undone. I am being purposely vague because if you haven't read the book I don't want to give anything away. I don't think it will ruin anything though if I say that the story of Atonement is a novel that Briony ends up writing in order to try and make amends. Does she? I don't think she does, and even though she lives a long and successful life she dies knowing that her book was not enough. Atonement was slow to start, but if you can make it through the first 50-75 pages, you're in for a good book. I will definitely read McEwan again but I wasn't awed enough to run out and get a copy of Saturday, and after reading Sandra at Bookworld's summary of an interview with the author, I think I am more likely to choose Amsterdam before Saturday