May 24, 2004


Usually I don’t skim a book when I am reading it. Usually I read every word, savor every phrase and twist of thought. Finish most books I start. Yet when I was reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement I decided I would skim the book and put it aside. The first part of the story had been so tedious to read I almost didn’t want to finish it at all. The people he was writing about seemed so pampered and artificial, I just couldn’t get excited about their problems. (Especially after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake which moved me very deeply by her compassionate writing and also, even with its different cultural references, felt like the story of my life.)

So I found myself skimming the book (it really was fun to do!) and when I got to the very end, decided that I really wanted to read it. And I am glad I did. The best part of the novel, for me, was his description of World War II in France and England in 1940. Even though I have a horror of war and war stories, I was fascinated by the details and the view from colonal Robbie’s eyes. Growing up with the body counts of deaths during The War seeming to be the only news on the radio, I’ve avoided newspapers and only recently been able to listen to talk shows. Yet there was something personal in the telling of this part of the novel. I think it might be the guy thing, where action speaks better than feelings (as told by this male author).

The story is one of a pubescent sister’s actions towards her older sister and it’s consequences. It took her a long time to understand how much pain she caused. As a nurse in training during The War she learned.

“From this new and intimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew: that a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended.”

In the end, although I wouldn’t rush out to find another of Ian McEwan’s novels, I am glad I did read the book carefully.

Posted by leya at May 24, 2004 06:01 PM