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    Original Essays | July 14, 2015

    Joshua Mohr: IMG Your Imagination, Your Fingerprint

    When I was in grad school, a teacher told our workshop that if a published novel is 300 pages, the writer had to generate 1,200 along the way. I... Continue »
    1. $17.50 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

      All This Life

      Joshua Mohr 9781593766030

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Atonement Cover



Reading Group Guide

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 housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Briony’s 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 girl’s 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 London’s World War II military hospitals to a reunion of the Tallis clan in 1999.

Atonement is Ian McEwan’s finest achievement. Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class, the novel is at its center a profound–and profoundly moving–exploration of shame and forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.

From the Hardcover edition.

1. In the novel, many references are made to other works of fiction — by Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen — hinting at the theme of fictional narrative shaping life. Did any of the references strike you as particularly apt?

2. How did you feel about Briony’s revelation at the end, and what kind of atonement did you feel had been made?

3. “Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.” McEwan wrote this as a commentary on the September 11th events in New York City. How does it relate to this novel in particular?

4. The Daily Telegraph said the writing was so sensuous, “You can’t believe a man wrote this.” Do you agree?

5. Why does Briony stick to her story with such unwavering commitment? Does she act entirely in error in a situation she is not old enough to understand, or does she act, in part, on an impulse of malice, revenge, or self-importance? At what point does she develop the empathy to realize what she has done to Cecilia and Robbie?

6. About changing the fates of Robbie and Cecilia in her final version of the book, Briony says, “Who would want to believe that the young lovers never met again, never fulfilled their love? Who would want to believe that, except in the service of the bleakest realism”? McEwan’s Atonement has two endings — one in which the fantasy of love is fulfilled, and one in which that fantasy is stripped away. What is the emotional effect of this double ending? Is Briony right in thinking that “it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindess, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end”?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

writermala, September 16, 2011 (view all comments by writermala)
Beginning authors are advised to "describe! describe! describe!" Obviously McEwan is no beginning author. His descriptions are just wonderful. One gets such a vivid picture of what he is describing even though the era and locale are foreign to one.

McEwan uses the clever ploy of saying things through Briony as she is growing up, such as, "Wasn't writing a kind of socializing, an achievable form of flight, of fancy of the imagination?"

The book is so well written that one would read and enjoy it even if there was no story to speak of! However, there is a plot weaved into the book that one wants to know the ending for. What really happened? Does Briory get atonement? Well, you'll have to read the book and the atonement is in the hands of the novelist isn't it?
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mariz, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by mariz)
Fabulous read! It reminded me of Bonjour Tristesse, where another young girl actually caused the death of her father's girlfriend. There are acts you can never go back to change.
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Julia Callahan, February 16, 2008 (view all comments by Julia Callahan)
Literally the best book I've read in years. The film prompted me to read this book (much to my embarrassment), and I was just overwhelmed by how great the book really is. McEwan weaves an amazing tale of lust, love, actions, consequences, war, peace, and the true place of the author. The commentary on the nature of fiction is played out in a profoundly moving and utterly disturbing way. Atonement is simply unmissable.
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Product Details

McEwan, Ian
Anchor Books
New York
Large type books
Country life
Psychological fiction
Teenage girls
Domestic fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Large Print:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
February 25, 2003
Grade Level:
8.00x5.28x.80 in. .62 lbs.

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Atonement Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9780385721790 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Atonement emerges as the author's most deeply felt novel yet....It is a novel that attests not only to Mr. McEwan's mastery of craft and virtuosic control of narrative suspense, but also to his knowledge of the human heart and its rage for symmetry and order."
"Review" by , "Flat-out brilliant....Lush, detailed, vibrantly colored and intense." San Francisco Chronicle
"Review" by , "His most complete and passionate book to date."
"Review" by , "Resplendent....Graceful....Magisterial....Gloriously realized."
"Review" by , "McEwan is technically at the height of his powers."
"Review" by , "Astonishing....Gorgeous....Bewitching....A thought-provoking, luxuriant novel."
"Review" by , "[McEwan's] best novel so far....It will break your heart."
"Review" by , "The extraordinary range of Atonement suggests that there's nothing McEwan can't do."
"Review" by , "Magnificent....Suspenseful, psychologically astute and intellectually bracing."
"Review" by , "[W]e are free to linger in the moment, to savor the exquisite, agonizing aptness of McEwan's images and the delicacy of his touch as he records, in fiction, the true horrors of war, and makes new the ordinary realizations those horrors force upon us."
"Review" by , "The dust jacket proclaims Atonement [McEwan's] finest achievement, and although publishers are prone to this...view of their authors' talents, in this case they are triumphantly right."
"Review" by , "McEwan's latest, both powerful and equisite, considers the making of a writer, the dangers and rewards of imagination, and the juncture between innocence and awareness, all set against the late afternoon of an England soon to disappear."
"Review" by , "Readers are spared little, yet the journey is worth the observed pain and distress. Well-read teens will find much to think about in this novel."
"Review" by , "[A] master of psychologically acute and elegantly gothic tales...polished and entrancing....[McEwan] excels brilliantly at depicting moral dilemmas and stressed minds in action."
"Synopsis" by , McEwan, Booker Prize-winning author of Amsterdam, has created a symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness that provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative combined with the provocation readers have come to expect from this master of English prose.
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