Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More Atonement

Her memories of the interrogation and signed statements and testimony, or of her awe outside the courtroom from which her youth excluded her, would not trouble her so much in the years to come as her fragmented recollection of that late night and summer dawn. How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime.
- Ian McEwan's Atonement

A gorgeously constructed paragraph is it not? Especially the development of the threading beads into rosary.

Not getting hung up on the finer points though, McEwan's Atonement is written in a narrative of fluctuating time periods. This quoted segment is in the future, and directly afterwards we, the reader, find ourselves back in the present of the story, dealing with the ongoing issues. This manner of jumping ahead to encapsulate the happenstance with which she's made her choice to remain resolute. A previous chapter begins:

Within the half hour Briony would commit her crime.
McEwan is keeping up the tension of the piece, making sure the reader knows full well that a misdeed is on the horizon of which the protagonist must atone.

This, in a roundabout sort of way, is the very reason why I felt the need to come back to this story - lucky me that a copy finally got ordered for the library and I could steal it momentarily for perusal in this very matter.

Coming out of the cinema, both Laura and I shaking our heads at the dire circumstance inflicted upon the hapless characters, we took differing views on Briony's pov.

I, taking in full view the synopsis presented: that she would make a mistake; coupled with the consistent manner in which Briony is depicted (wrapped up in her creative world), and of course the fact we are repeatedly placed in her misguided point of view; felt that Briony was mistaken and as a child, joined the dots without a map (so to speak). Therefore, though she came to realise her mistake, at the time she made her judgement it was with all good intentions.

Laura on the other hand felt simply - and this she backed up with the fact that Briony did have a crush on Robbie (true) - that Briony was getting revenge for being slighted. This too was backed up by the view of another woman Laura works with, who just "wanted to slap Briony silly".

Both believed there was malicious intent there, and I, certain there wasn't, have proved as such by reading the book - phew! I like being right.

But how has this misinterpretation come about? Is it a girl/boy thing? Is in the reading of the synopsis prepared me to make that leap? Has the film making lost some of the translation of the book - in the book we spend such a long time in Briony's head that it is clear what is going on with her. In film the audience is guided yet never explicitly told. Who knows? I can't take a bigger sample of people in for questioning since no one seems to have gone out to see it - they're either too old to bother with the cinema or they're all out watching Shoot Em Up (awful) and Disturbia (quite good actually) - on a side note, a friend suggested that Disturbia sounded awful and she wouldn't go see it, but would consider it were it called Entertaina (a stout note there then all you writers)

On another note, McEwan's slickly concieved narrative slips between pov's in a not so obvious manner. First off, each chapter is set in one specific character's pov, and yet within that, we get the occasional glimmer of what another person is feeling. Very interesting. If I had time, I'd read more to see whether this has a specific reason (I don't think I could pull it off so expertly - in the past my writing has done just this and annoyed my readers... and the agents).


solv said...

Atonement is on the Time 'All-time Greatest Novels' list:
I'm planning on reading them all.

R1X said...

Not another list?!

Erm, was at a friends place and they had a book on the 1001 greatest books ! Which list do I choose to go with? Isn't it enough that I'm just trying to read? Boo hoo.