On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching Cecilia is their housekeepers son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Brionys sister, has recently graduated from Cambridge.
By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had never before dared to approach and will have become victims of the younger girls scheming imagination. And Briony will have committed a dreadful crime, the guilt for which will color her entire life.
In each of his novels Ian McEwan has brilliantly drawn his reader into the intimate lives and situations of his characters. But never before has he worked with so large a canvas: In Atonement he takes the reader from a manor house in England in 1935 to the retreat from Dunkirk in 1941; from the Londons World War II military hospitals to a reunion of the Tallis clan in 1999.
Atonement is Ian McEwans finest achievement. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is at its center a profoundand profoundly movingexploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.
The play, for which Briony had designed the posters, programmes and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper, was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch. When the preparations were complete, she had nothing to do but contemplate her finished draft and wait for the appearance of her cousins from the distant north. There would be time for only one day of rehearsal before her brother arrived. At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue, was that love which did not build a foundation on good sense was doomed. The reckless passion of the heroine, Arabella, for a wicked foreign count is punished by ill fortune when she contracts cholera during an impetuous dash towards a seaside town with her intended. Deserted by him and nearly everybody else, ...
The strength of Atonement is in both the plot and the imagery McEwan conjures up. It is a book to absorb slowly and well worth the time to do so. The middle section, set during the evacuation of the British troops from France (via Dunkirk) in 1940, is particularly good.
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A moving, ambitious and richly conceived novel that summons up the heroics and follies of twentieth-century life.
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high.
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