Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I recently finished reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. I made the unfortunate mistake of watching the film when I was about two thirds way through the book. I say unfortunate because the film wasn't quite as good as I remember when I saw it last year at the Tottenham Court Odeon. I don't think it was seeing it on the small screen that disappointed, rather it was the fact that the book is so rich and powerful and the film manages to convey little of the rawness and beauty of McEwans's prose. The trouble is I think the book is pretty much unfilmable as so much of it is about what is going on in the character's heads. The only section where the film really wins is in that extraordinary Steadicam shot panning around the beach at Dunkirk where the British Army is waiting to be rescued. It is a beautiful, awesome sequence, which reminded me very much of the Omaha Beach landings that opened Saving Private Ryan.

As for the novel, well it is very clever and I admit the film is equally good in revealing the final twist, although it does it rather differently. Essentially what McEwan's novel is about is the stories that we all tell, both about ourselves and to each other. It blurs the lines between fact and fiction to an extent that they become indistinguishable such that the story becomes more important than whether it is what really happens. We all like happy endings but Atonement doesn't have one so our author - the storyteller - creates one to satisfy that need to know that it all ends well. I also liked a theme that is consistent with the other McEwan books I've read about how the lives of the two main characters Robbie and Cecilia, are abruptly and cruelly shattered in a spontaneous moment. It is the utter randomness of fate that I find striking and appalling, that at any moment our lives can be sent on a disastrous course through no real fault of our own.

Finally, McEwan's prose I find delightful. It is evocative and although I'd seen the film before reading the book it wasn't so much images from the film that came flooding back but rather a much richer and expansive picture painted by McEwan's words.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Yes, the book was much better than the movie, but I still say what's so tragic about an interrupted knee-wobbler between two horny kids.