Atonement by Ian McEwan: 5/8/08

Atonement by Ian McEwan

We had an interesting and thought provoking discussion about Ian McEwan’s
Atonement. Some of our members thought that the beginning of the book was
‘too descriptive, too flowery’. Others felt that the book showed the ‘messiness of
life’ and was not ‘facile’ like Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Some members
‘hated’ Briony. One member said that she had taught thirteen-year-old students
and that they were old enough to take responsibility for their actions.

It was interesting to some of us that the effects of class were so strong that a
thirteen year old’s word was taken over an adult from a lower class. One group
member pointed out that it took one hundred words in the old days to say what
we say now in ten words. Someone noted that this book was reminiscent of
Rashomon. You never quite know what happens as everyone is telling another

One participant was inspired by Briony thinking about ‘how do you describe a
flower’. This made her think about how would she describe different things to
really paint a picture of what she was trying to portray. A group member who has
suffered from migraines pointed out that Emily Tallis’ section contains the best
description of migraines she has ever read. One reader wondered if Jack Tallis
had an affair with Grace, Robbie’s mother and if this might explain why Jack
Tallis was willing to fund Robbie’s education. This person had just read The Kite
that perhaps made him think of this angle.

The family name Tallis was chosen by McEwan after the English composer
because the overlapping stories strikes him as a kind of polyphony. It is
interesting to note that Ian McEwan grew up in a working class family and
became a very successful and literary writer. This might be reflected in the
character of Robbie, a lower class person who is very educated and talented.
Also, McEwan’s father fought in the battle of Dunkirk that is described very vividly
in this book. Overall, our group would highly recommend this book as worthwhile
reading. Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan Powell’s Interview with McEwan

More about McEwan & Atonement
  • For more articles on McEwan and his books, try Infotrac Onefile, available at the library, or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).