While you may be familiar with the movie Atonement (2007), did you know that the box office success was based on a novel by Ian McEwan written in 2001? 


The novel is written in four distinct parts, three of which follow Briony Tallis at various points of her life. The plot is mostly concerned with the devastating consequences that a lie she tells as a thirteen year old has on the people around her, and her attempts to atone (see what McEwan did there?) for her actions. It raises the question of the boundaries accountability, and the methods of penitence that are acceptable, all occurring with the backdrop of World War II. 


I was first introduced to the book as part of my A-Level English course, and so I have to reread Atonement a handful of times, all while writing painstaking annotations and memorising quotations. McEwan writing style jumps from describing a well off family’s estate to the horrors of World War II with impressive elasticity.


On the website goodreads.com, where readers can rate and review different books, Atonement has a 3.94 out of 5 stars, with 34% being 5 out of 5 and 36% being 4 out of 5. However, I was curious about the 2% of reviews which were 1 out of 5. A user called Leah argued that Briony was too harshly judged for her actions. In a detailed review they wrote on the 10th of August, 2018, they argue “[…] shouldn't a twelve-year-old be legitimately creeped out by what Briony learns in the first part of the story? Aren't her suspicions (though not her conclusion) legitimate?”. The way in which McEwan portrays Briony in Part One is that of a bratty child, caught up in trying to play that part of an adult. Her grandiose sense of importance is diminished (though is by no means missing) in later parts, but in Part One it is on full display. At certain points, McEwan’s descriptions seem harsh to lobby at a thirteen-year-old, but the end of the novel reveals the reason behind the resentful writing.


Despite the pitfalls of the novel, Atonement is a modern classic, being shortlisted for the booker prize and winning many more, selling over two million copies. The fact that I am studying it right now demonstrates the impact that it has had on readers, and in all is a novel I would recommend.