Summer of 1935, English countryside.
13-year-old Briony Tallis is a girl who sees events see doesn’t quite understand and ”possessed by a desire to have the world just so”. Cecilia Tallis has just finished with Cambridge and shares and unresolved tension with Robbie Turner, her childhood friend and son of a cleaning lady. By the end of that day the lives of all three will be changed forever…
McEwan leads us sublimely through the intimate terrains of nostalgia, love, memories, shame and guilt, passing from a manor house in the English countryside to the retreat from Dunkirk during WWII, from military hospitals to a family reunion in 1999.
With sublime pages digging into the human soul and mind, this novel is driven more by a richness of feeling than plot and offers the reader an autopsy of human fragilities and darknesses. It also meditates on story-telling, its artifices, and on the writer’s art through Briony’s character: both a villain and a hero, she is a writer acting as God that has spent her whole life trying to atone her crime.
The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she as set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelist, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.