This was our most recent book club selection, though it seems that our book club will never meet to discuss this book.
Every attempt to read this left me uninterested. I decided to pick up the audio version of the book in an act of desperation. I spend at least an hour and half on the road every day, so I figured I could get it listened to in a week or so.
Point being, I listened to this. I didn't actually sit down and read it. I don't know if that matters, but anyway…
Overall, I didn't enjoy the book that much. The heavy wording doesn't seem appropriate for the rather simple storyline. A young girl with an over active imagination accuses an innocent man of a horrible crime. And for some reason that is never quite explained, everyone believes her, despite the lack of evidence. The most likely explanation is that it was a class issue, the child was from a well off family, the man she accused was the servant's son. The life of the person accused is ruined. He serves time and is then forced into the army. This takes place during WWII, I believe.
The book describes his life and the horrors he witnesses while in the army. Also, the reader learns about the life of the woman who loved him. They had one brief encounter before he was sent away. Being that she's the sister of the accuser, she cuts off her family and creates a life of her own as a nurse. She lives a lonely life, waiting for her lover to be free. One highlight of the book is the description of their passion and devotion to each other that continues during their time apart. It's a romance created by letters and ideas and desires because they never had the chance to act on their feelings for each other.
In the end, it is revealed that Briony finally realized that she had done and the harm she caused. But by then it was too late. Evidently she becomes a successful writer. There is one absurd passage in the book though where she submits her story and it's rejected. However, her rejection letter is accompanied by a long glowing review of what a remarkable writer she is. The letter contains numerous questions about what she's written, suggesting that maybe she focus on the consequences of the behavior in the story – the story is, of course, the story of what she thought she saw. The reviewer seems to be the one that points out to Briony the error in her beliefs, emphasizing that this story is a tale told by a confused child, not a recollection of an actual event.
The atonement though, as suggested by the title, never happens. It exists in wanting and hoping, but not in actuality. I felt defeated after listening to this. Since listening to this though, I've read another Ian McEwan book, which left me with a similar feeling. He's an excellent writer, but the stories are a bit rough to handle.