On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.
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Ian McEwan's Booker Prize-nominated Atonement is his first novel since Amsterdam took home the prize in 1998. But while Amsterdam was a slim, sleek piece, Atonement is a more sturdy, more ambitious work, allowing McEwan more room to play, think, and experiment.
We meet 13-year-old Briony Tallis in the summer of 1935, as she attempts to stage a production of her new drama "The Trials of Arabella" to welcome home her older, idolized brother Leon. But she soon discovers that her cousins, the glamorous Lola and the twin boys Jackson and Pierrot, aren't up to the task, and directorial ambitions are abandoned as more interesting prospects of preoccupation come onto the scene. The charlady's son, Robbie Turner, appears to be forcing Briony's sister Cecilia to strip in the fountain and sends her obscene letters; Leon has brought home a dim chocolate magnate keen for a war to promote his new "Army Ammo" chocolate bar; and upstairs, Briony's migraine-stricken mother Emily keeps tabs on the house from her bed. Soon, secrets emerge that change the lives of everyone present....
The interwar, upper-middle-class setting of the book's long, masterfully sustained opening section might recall Virginia Woolf or Henry Green, but as we move forward--eventually to the turn of the 21st century--the novel's central concerns emerge, and McEwan's voice becomes clear, even personal. For at heart, Atonement is about the pleasures, pains, and dangers of writing, and perhaps even more, about the challenge of controlling what readers make of your writing. McEwan shouldn't have any doubts about readers of Atonement: this is a thoughtful, provocative, and at times moving book that will have readers applauding. --Alan Stewart, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Back Cover:
"McEwan's Atonement…truly dazzles, proving to be as much about the art and morality of writing as it is about the past…. The middle section of Atonement, the two vividly realized set pieces of Robbie's trek to the Channel and Briony's experiences with the wounded evacuees of Dunkirk, would alone have made an outstanding novel. In keeping with Robbie's wartime realization -- and clearly with McEwan's own credo that "without the details there could be no larger picture" -- the author's descriptions here are marked by bitter, relentless, closely researched fact. (When Briony loosens a soldier's head bandage, his brains threaten to fall in her lap; in the midst of an otherwise peaceful moment, Robbie spies a child's leg wedged in a tree.) But superb as those narratives are, they are only a fraction of the novel's achievement…. There is wonderful writing throughout as McEwan weaves his many themes -- the accidents of contingency, the sins of absent fathers, class oppression -- into his narrative, and in a magical love scene." -- Brian Bethune, Maclean’s, January 14, 2002
“… Atonement is a deliriously great read, but more than that it is a great book.… There are characters you follow with breathless anxiety; a plot worthy of a top-drawer suspense novelist, complete with jolting reversals; language that unspools seemingly effortlessly, yet leaves a minefield of still-to-be-detonated nouns and verbs…. rife with…unforgettable tableaux….” -- Zsuszi Gartner, The Globe and Mail, October 20, 2001
"What a joy it is to read a book that shocks one into remembering just how high one's literary standards should be.… a tour de force by one of England's best novelists…. Atonement is a spectacular book; as good a novel -- and more satisfying…-- than anything McEwan has written….sublimely written narrative…. The Dunkirk passage is a stupendous piece of writing, a set piece that could easily stand on its own.… ” -- Noah Richler, National Post, 19 October 2001
“leaves no doubt as to why he is a major force in contemporary literature” -- Joshua Knelman, National Post, 20 October 2001.
"I can’t imagine many readers who won’t find it compelling from beginning to end…. McEwan has dealt with major themes before in his novels, but never at this length and with this narrative richness. With Atonement he has staked a convincing claim to be the finest of all that brilliantly talented crew of British novelists, including Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis and Graham Swift, who rose to prominence in the 1980s." -- Phillip Marchand, Toronto Star, 23 December 2001.
“ Atonement has power and stature and is compulsively readable.” -- The Gazette (Montreal)
“It is difficult to imagine how the book might be bettered. Bold in its intentions and flawlessly executed, Atonement is one of the rare novels to strike a balance between “old-fashioned” storytelling and a postmodern exploration of the process of literary creation. Atonement is a tremendous achievement, a rich demonstration of McEwan’s gifts as a storyteller.” -- The Vancouver Sun
“Ian McEwan’s writing is so vivid it can make your eyes ache. But you can’t look less closely or put the book down. Such is McEwan’s growing strength. [A]tonement is exacting and poetic in detail as well as generous with wry, often heart-rending insight. Each character is richly portrayed and fully realized, from their subtlest thoughts and motivations to their period dress and surroundings. Atonement sustains, rewards and surprises right up to its final page.” -- Victoria Times-Colonist
“With a clear prose style and a humming sense of tension throughout, Atonement is both illuminating and entertaining. McEwan believes in love and goodness, but he is far more interested in good’s contrary, whether it is evil or mere psychological weakness. There may be atonement for the past, but there is never redemption.” -- The Edmonton Journal
“Class conflict, war and the responsibilities of the artist are among the themes of Atonement, but it is Ian McEwan’s writing that makes this novel one of his best: lush and langorous in the long first section, understated and precise in the latter two.” -- The Ottawa Citizen
"The engrossing new novel by the winner of the 1998 Booker Prize hauls a defining part of the British literary tradition up to and into the 21st century.” -- Geoff Dyer, The Guardian
“It is rare for a critic to feel justified in using the word “masterpiece,” but Ian McEwan’s new book really deserves to be called one... Atonement is a work of astonishing depth and humanity... This novel really is worthy of the Booker.” -- The Economist
“The narrative, as always with McEwan, smoulders with slow-burning menace. . .the book is magically readable and never has McEwan shown himself to be more in sympathy with the vulnerability of the human heart.” -- The Sunday Times
“McEwan is a consistently entertaining storyteller, giving good weight right up until the final page. Even by his exacting standards his latest novel is extraordinary. His trademark sentences of sustained eloquence and delicacy, which have sometimes over-rationalized the evocation of emotion, strike a deeper resonance in Atonement.” -- The Times
“…no contemporary of his has shown such passionate dedication to the art of the novel.” -- Frank Kermode, London Review of Books
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