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Why you need to read Atonement right now!

Some books change the way you think- this is one of them

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Just a couple of hours ago, I read the last of Atonement by Ian McEwan and I have many thoughts about it, which I am excited to discuss here. MANY! If you haven’t read this romantic tragedy, I would highly recommend downloading it and spending some time every day to read this novel that will truly change how you make decisions in the future. Then come back to this blog post, of course! 😉 I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this fantastic novel!

The first feeling I felt as I read those final, shocking pages was that I had been played by the author. Ever since it was revealed that Robbie had been fighting in WW2 and was waiting for evacuation at Dunkirk, I read each page tentatively, hoping with all my might that he would survive the battle. So I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I felt immense relief when Robbie appeared during the confrontation between Cecilia and Briony, grateful that after all the turmoil he had been forced through, his future was, though still not safe, bright because he was with the one who had been loyal to him and loved him at his worst. But when Briony confesses at the end of the novel that the two lovers had actually died, their last meeting being the short exchange before Cecilia had to leave, I could not believe the author’s audacity of tearing away something I had truly believed in and wrecking the lives of characters I had invested my hope into. However, I found it interesting that Briony believed that writing a novel and creating a whole new world in which the two were prospering qualified as atonement for her sin. Considering this in more detail, I must disagree with her. How is it fair to think that you have made amends for the terrible things you have done to someone, by not ever seeking their forgiveness? While I understand the predicament of the war, Briony herself admits that it is her cowardice that prevents her from seeking her sister, and though Briony states that she knows she will never be forgiven, she seems to find solace that her novel makes up for her actions to some degrees because her characters have happy endings. Should I have been in such a position, I am confident in the belief that I would have been plagued by guilt and remorse every day that I did not truly show how sorry I was through my actions as a better person. I have always profoundly believed that actions are far more impactful than words, for, of course, it is easier to say or even write, things in the moment, but it is much more difficult to implement and act on those ambitious words. Truth be told, I found it slightly disappointing than Briony, a strong character, did not find the courage to seek true atonement.

Nevertheless, Briony is my favourite character! Probably not a very popular decision, since it is inevitable to dislike her at least at some point of the novel. Yet although I was inwardly screaming at her at many points of the novel, willing her to take my advice (I know, I know. I’m a very dramatic reader!), the complexity behind the face of order and regulations interested me greatly. As a child, it was unsurprising that she wanted the spotlight, but as a child whose father was constantly away, whose mother lay away with ailments, and whose siblings were away at university, it is understandable that she craved attention and yearned to “grow up”, act with the maturity she thought necessary to earn their respect and company. Looking back, it is clear to see that all Briony did during the dreadful Part 1 as she incriminated Robbie was done out of love to protect her sister. The power of a simple misconception of seeing two people arguing and one then going into the fountain, is thoroughly illustrated by Briony who goes on to link every future event to those crucial moments she caught through a window. One of the largest takeaways for me was the importance of having conversations when faced with uncertainty. Most of the time, we don’t see the whole picture and this is something a simple exchange of words can correct and save a lifetime of misery and suffering. Personally speaking, I am often quick to act and reach judgements of a person, though definitely not on the scale of Briony, and the horrific consequences that can arise of such mentality are what I am going to consider every time I find myself jumping to a conclusion, and although I am bound to fail in this quest by merely forgetting, I want to keep reminding myself in the hope that I will be able to permanently cultivate this quality in myself.

On the note of Briony’s despicable actions, this blog post would not be complete if I did not discuss my feelings about the relationship between the two sisters. Despite the magnitude and consequence of the action, I wonder how it was possible for Cecilia to cease the relationship with her younger sister, and her whole family for that matter, and live alone in pain while the one she had defended couldn’t even be there with her. While I cannot ever see myself estranged from my loving family, I can’t help but understand how betrayed Cecilia felt and how that fuelled the hostility and resentment she developed to her old life. Perhaps the difference between the action of hers and what I would have done is that I come from a loving family whilst hers was cold, the role of the mother forced upon her young heart. I think it takes such bravery to decide to walk away from your family after discovering their lack of integrity, a principle which is the foundation of a good human being. Would it be weak to continue living life as normal with such an immoral family that sent an innocent to prison? I agree here with Cecilia, that the principals of a person is the primary aspect to look at in terms of developing a relationship, but is it worth shutting off your family completely because of anger? This is a concept I am still considering, but I stand by my opinion that Cecilia made a brave choice to not be surrounded by people who did not share her important beliefs of loyalty and honesty. As someone who aspires to be a lawyer, I am proud that there are people who will not conspire with their family to incriminate innocents and leave someone guilty of rape, a horrendous crime, free. For a judicial system of society to work, honesty and integrity are essential in all members, which this novel conveys very very well.

So those are some of my thoughts after finishing this novel and this is why I think you need to shut off your social media, switch off Netflix and just read. I’m sure you’ll be amazed by not only the carefully orchestrated storyline but the absolute beauty of McEwan’s writing with words chosen to perfection I would have thought unattainable. It is a story of love and war and regret. There is so much to understand from the perspective of each character, and I sincerely hope that you will feel and experience the emotional ride I went on too.

I’d like to end with one of my favourite quotes by Cecilia.

“Come back. Come back to me.”

This phrase, whenever I read it, gives me a sense of hope. Cecilia’s strong sense of belief that it is possible for someone in such trauma, Briony in her nightmares or Robbie facing war memories, to still return to sanity. To return to goodness from whatever sins committed- there is still and will always be salvation if only one chooses to atone, one of the most impactful messages I understood from this book.

If you do get the chance to read this, please share your comments and feedback! I would love to hear your thoughts on this exceptional piece of writing!


Why you need to read Atonement right now! was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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