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Atonement by Ian McEwan

2002, Vintage


Today in Normandy, France, the 80th anniversary World War II D-Day Landings commemoration ceremonies are taking place as I write. In fact, I was waylaid by the TV for a few moments, gazing at King Charles, Presidents Macron and Biden, their wives (who, I couldn't help but notice, all have long blond hair), veterans old and young, and many others.


The book Atonement by Ian McEwan, takes place around the time of WWII. A gripping novel from start to finish, it starts with a misunderstanding which leads to a false accusation, changing the lives of the main characters. (How's that for a brief summary?)


The book was so good I was curious why it was only shortlisted for the 2001 Booker prize. Maybe winner Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang was better or maybe it was too soon for another win for McEwan (his Amsterdam won the prize in 1998).


It's been awhile since I read this book, so I'll just mention one note I jotted down, regarding a letter received by the main character, Briony, from an editor. (p 311)


Briony wants to be a writer, which may be one reason she's always looking for a story and tends to bend reality to fit her own ideas. Having written a book from the story she's lived, which is the story of Atonement, she submits her manuscript to an editor. The letter she gets in response is a fascinating commentary on Atonement, but especially on writing itself, and I've noted in the margin: "For the novelist, there is no atonement possible." I do not remember exactly what I meant when I wrote that, but am including it for your contemplation, and mine. Could it be, the novelist must decide what to say, and once it's said, it can't be changed ?


The editor's letter also states, in response to Briony's apology for not talking about the war in her story, "Warfare...is the enemy of creative activity."


On this 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, my unrealistic and I fear never to be fulfilled wish, is the end of war in all its forms and in all places.


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