Atonement by Ian McEwan
"No one now writing fiction in the English language surpasses Ian McEwan." - The Washington Post Book World
"McEwan could be the most psychologically astute writer working today..." - Esquire
With accolades like this, one might wonder why I waited so long to read McEwen. I've had the book for years but I don't remember what made me buy it in the first place. Some review on some blog struck a chord I guess. Now that I've read it I'm still ambivalent and I feel almost apologetic about not loving it.
Many of the glowing descriptions I've read are, I think, accurate. It is lush, detailed, intense, gripping and beautiful, all words used by qualified reviewers. I just didn't find it consistently wonderful from beginning to end. There were times when it didn't hold my interest and I found myself reading and re-reading the same passage to try to get myself back into the story.
It is a good story. Thirteen year old Briony is an imaginative child who misunderstands what's happening when she sees her older sister Cecilia in an intimate embrace with a man. What she thinks she saw leads her to an action, a crime, that will change the lives of her entire family, and the damage will be irreversible. The time span of the story is 1935 to 1997, which takes Briony from age 13 through her 75th birthday. I finally began to like her when she turned 75.
I'm just realizing as I'm writing this that I never came to care for any of the characters and that would explain why I didn't love the book. I do think McEwan is an excellent writer, and he is definitely "psychologically astute" to the point of brilliance, but I can't get seriously involved in a novel unless the characters mean something to me, and these ones never got to that place. Who knows why? Sometimes things click and sometimes they don't. This time, for me, it didn't.