Atonement by Ian McEwan

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Atonement - Ian McEwan

Book Review by Shehryar Mazari

Ian McEwan was among British fiction's angriest young men of the 1970s. His tendency to examine the darker side of the human soul - among the themes he explored in his earlier novels were rape, murder and dismemberment - won him the sobriquet of Ian Macabre. His previous novel, Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize, ended with a mutual euthanasia pact.

At first Atonement does not feel like a book by Ian McEwan. Part One (185 pages) of the novel begins languidly in 1935 at the Tallis family country manor in Surrey on a sweltering summer's day. Amid a scene of rural bliss, the strongly imaginative Briony Tallis, a 13-year old budding writer, goes about arranging the performance of a play she has written to celebrate the arrival of her elder brother, Leon. There is to be a house party in the evening.

Her mother Emily is nursing one of her never-ending migraines as she waits for her philandering husband Jack's routine phone call telling her that he is spending the night in London because of 'work'.

Briony's restless older sister, Cecilia, is bothered about her recently developed awkwardness with Robbie Turner, son of the family's charlady and her childhood playmate. Robbie, at 25, has been Jack Tallis's charge for years; thanks to his benefactor and his own intelligence, he has obtained a First at Cambridge and is presently contemplating medical school. Cecilia has also studied at Cambridge, having recently returned home "disappointed" with her finals' results. While at University they had met rarely, occasionally crossing each other in the street with no more exchange than a passing smile.

The other cast of characters include the adored brother Leon, who brings with him his friend Paul Marshall, a...