As the self-appointed Chairman of the “Can’t We Just Give Ian McEwan the Nobel Prize Already??” Committee, I’ve blogged often about my esteem for McEwan, which borders on the fanatical and which I have so consistently expressed that I have a blog tag for all things Ian McEwan. (I’m expecting the restraining order at any moment.)
While I haven’t read all of his books (YET), ATONEMENT is my favorite, and not only my favorite McEwan novel, but rather it is my favorite novel of the last ten years.
There are many reasons to love ATONEMENT, from the beautiful language to the wrenching plot, the rich historical setting to the memorable characters and images, but there are two reasons in particular that I love the novel:
The first is that it is a tremendous example of what I am arbitrarily calling a “backdrop” novel. Although the novel isn’t about World War II, the sense of dread and regret and transgression that McEwan evokes in the first half of the book is truly driven home by the evacuation at Dunkirk and the horrific experiences of Briony when she is a nurse. The novel isn’t “about” World War II per se, but it manages to capture an intense and moving synchronicity of feeling between the war and the lives of the characters, both humanizing the war and contextualizing the lives of the characters. I really love and admire novels that are able to do this because it makes both the historical backdrop and the characters feel richer and bigger and more meaningful. McEwan is a master at capturing a historical period as experienced in the lives of his characters.
The second reason is that it is a meta-novel, in the sense that it can also be read as being about the nature of writing and truth and fiction. And as it examines the nature of fiction and manages to be a novel about itself, it’s not even annoying!
So I was definitely both excited and anxious to see the movie adaptation of ATONEMENT, now in a theater near you.
My thoughts: it was good. You probably couldn’t ask for a more faithful translation from book to film, the acting was great, that famous long shot was, well, long (and amazing)…. but basically it just made me remember how much I love the book.
My complaint about the movie is that it sometimes felt heavy-handed (when Robbie wants to undo the past… he imagines things moving backwards), and the second half wasn’t as intense as the first. Part of this had to do with choices by the filmmakers, part of it (such as the ending) were faithful to the book but seemed a little bit hollow on the screen.
Ultimately: the movie was good. But you just can’t top the book.
Have you seen “Atonement”? Read the book? What did you think?