October 20, 2008

In Which I Again Reveal How I Am Apparently Far Behind the Literary Times

I just finished Ian McEwan's Atonement, which at this point is probably best known as a movie starring Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy, rather than a novel that was nominated for the Booker Prize and won a number of other literary awards.  

(P.S. - I despise these hideous "Now a Major Motion Picture" paperbacks, but that's all the library had, and I didn't have a choice.  Please be aware that it went against all of my morals to hold this ugly impersonator book in my hands for the past week.)

I am, of course, way behind the times with this book (it was published in 2001), mainly because I was once again too lazy to reserve the book at the library and it was permanently checked out.  

The book begins in 1935 with 13-year old Briony Tallis, who witnesses a flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a household servant.  This simple scene jump-starts Briony's imagination, causing her to misinterpret the event and later that evening to accuse Robbie when her cousin is assaulted on the property.  Moving from 1935 into World War II, and finally extending into the 20th century, the reader is able to glean the full effect of a child's dangerous (mis)interpretation of adult affairs by providing the perspectives of Briony, Cecilia and Robbie.

The plot of this book was actually not what I quite imagined, based on the fleeting previews I saw of Kiera and James.  It was interesting - I found myself sneaking a paragraph or two at commercials during "Brothers & Sisters" and other TV shows throughout the week, which is always a good sign.  However, there were times when I felt a bit bogged down by passages filled with overly descriptive details.  This is probably simply a way of providing very fleshed out characters, to fully develop their perspectives and events through their eyes, but it just got a little bit dull to me.  I've clearly been reading too many snappy essays and non-fiction books, because I was wishing for a simpler, pared down text.  Not that detail isn't important, critical, an important literary tool, etc.  But the writing almost felt a little bit 19th century to me - which perhaps was the point - and it dredges up painful memories of 200 page reading assignments during my English major days.  

Regardless, a good, fast-moving book, and an interesting peek into the power of misinterpretation.

Next up:  The Gathering, by Ann Enright

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