Thursday, 23 March 2017

Book Group Notes: Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Literary Lady’s Book Group Guides are designed to generate discussion at your book group or as a way of enhancing your own reading experience. The discussion points offer a ‘route’ through the book but don’t feel you need to stick too rigidly to it if an interesting topic comes up that needs further discussion!

About the Book:

At the heart of Atonement is a simple idea: on a hot summer’s day in 1945, a young girl gives a false account of a serious crime and spends the rest of her life coming to terms with her part in it. From this one transgression, the novel expands into an epic story of war, love, childhood and guilt. McEwan’s skilful and vivid writing presents the reader with a novel about the responsibilities and the power of storytelling. 

Discussion Points: 

- The novel is split into three parts – one summer’s day in Briony’s youth, Robbie’s experiences at France during the war and Briony’s life as wartime nurse. There is also an epilogue with the elderly Briony in 1999. Which of these sections resonated most with you?

- ‘What was guilt these days? It was cheap. Everyone was guilty, and no one was.’ Who is guilty in this novel? 

- What kind of family is the Tallis family? What do you make of the familial relationships and roles the characters engage in? 

- What part does war play in the novel? 

- What is the effect of McEwan’s visceral descriptions of war and violence? 

- How does the sex scene between Robbie and Cecilia contribute to our experience of the novel? What is the effect of Briony interrupting them?

- ‘Yes, I saw him. I saw him.’ What does Atonement say about truth and storytelling? 

- Geoff Dyer commented that with Atonement, ‘McEwan seems to be retrospectively inserting his name into the pantheon of British novelists of the 1930s and 1940s’. Does McEwan share similarities with writers like Virginia Woolf, D.H.Lawrence, E.M.Forster and Henry James?

- McEwan said he fell in love with Briony as a character. What was your impression of her? 

- Atonement was adapted for the screen in 2007. How does the film compare with the book? What would you have done differently if you made the film? 
Have you read Atonement? Join the discussion and leave a comment below! 


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