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Publisher's Summary

National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2003

In Atonement, three children lose their innocence, as the sweltering summer heat bears down on the hottest day in 1935, and their lives are changed forever. Cecilia Tallis is of England's priviledged class; Robbie Turner is the housekeeper's son. In their moment of intimate surrender, they are interrupted by Cecilia's hyperimaginative and scheming 13-year-old sister, Briony. And as chaos consumes the family, Briony commits a crime, the guilt of which she shall carry throughout her life.

©2003 Doubleday, Division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award Finalist, Adult Fiction, 2003

"A tour de force. Every bit as affecting as it is gripping." (The New York Times)
"Enthralling...With psychological insight and a command of sensual and historical detail, Mr. McEwan creates an absorbing fictional world." (The Wall Street Journal)
"A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama." (The New Yorker)

What members say

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  • Overall

An amazing book about complex human perception

"Atonement" is a deeply satifying, extraordinarily well written book that seems simple because it is so well crafted, but deals with such complex issues. Core to the book is that each of us comes to our own 'truth' while never really seeing the whole. One of the characters says "It's like being close up to something so large you don't even see it. Even now, I'm not sure I can. But I know it's there." Throughout the book the reader watches this happen again and again, something so large the individuals don't see the whole of it, although they know it is there. For Briony, this lack of understanding leads to tragic consequences, but the book goes on to show how each of us lacks a comprehensive understanding.

I thought it a wonderful, brilliantly written book that will stay with me for many years. Rarely have I had such a satifying "read." From start to finish McEwan didn't let me down. I think those who don't like it are listeners who prefer more action in their books, and this isn't that. It isn't a light read, nor is it fast-paced. I find myself almost wishing I belonged to a book club so I could talk about it, since I know that for all I got out of it, I missed so much. If this type of book isn't to one's taste, or the subject matter and ideas the author explores aren't interesting to you, then certainly don't get it. But that it is well written is not in doubt. I also found the topic utterly fascinating and felt the author was able to express ideas that I have played with in my own head but never would be able to write up as well.

47 of 48 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well written; well read.

Atonement is a beautifully written but ultimately very sad piece of serious literature. Days after finishing it, I find myself thinking about the lead character and the questions that she raises. The reading was also well done. Some listeners may find that the story moves too slowly for their tastes. For example, the first half (seven hours) of the book covers just one day in 1935 and is full of nice description but little action.

63 of 66 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • cs
  • 12-25-04

Attonement ... reasons to read

The two previous pans of this piece of literature spurred me to add my review. Yes, there was such a complex set of possiblities of meaning that I did listen to the beginning and other parts more than once. For me, that's what you do with a really great book. Light fluffy books have their place, as do deep and complex books. Attonement tends toward the latter; towards literature as opposed to entertainment, though not in a highbrow and full of its own importance way. Its certainly really funny in parts. So that is what I would like to add to the Attonement if you love books that lift you beyond your narrow existence.

44 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Ian McEwan's best yet

If it seems slow at first, stay with it. What you get is a simple plot that starts bright then gets dark and deep, a haunting love story (including a virtuoso erotic scene), a war story which is compelling and convincing, a precise portrait of the genteel psychological drama of the 1930s English upper-middle classes, and an extraordinary structural twist that will make you rethink the whole thing. Beautifully read with just the right accent and rhythm. Makes an interesting compare and contrast with Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin (also a top tip).

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Donna
  • brooklyn, NY, USA
  • 10-23-07

Stellar selection

I am a big consumer of recorded books, and I have rarely been moved to write a review. This book was so intriguing, so beautifully written, I couldn't resist singing its praises. It also has one of the most satisfying endings I've ever encountered. A lovely reading of a brilliant book.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • JOHN
  • Plantation, FL, United States
  • 06-22-07


This is my first Ian McEwan book and I now see why his work is so highly respected. Atonement is not an action-packed thriller but a well-conceived and drawn story about the events of one day and their lifelong consequences. Probably the first third or more of this book details the events of that fateful day, where the author skillfully replays the same scenes over and over as experienced by different characters in the story. Perhaps this is why some find the book "boring." For my taste, it is anything but boring and this author's skill had me very wrapped up in this seemingly simple but complex plot.

The manner in which this book ended is pure genious - wrapping up all of the details into a very surprising and thought-provoking finale.

I now have one or two McEwan titles on my wish-list and will definitely purchase one in the future when I am ready for another "dark" novel.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

This is one of my favorite modern novels

This is one of my favorite books, I have already read it twice and it's not very old. It's very well written and constructed and it works so well on so many different levels. The narration is wonderful and it is just as good as an audiobook as it is a written text. What I like about Ian McEwan's fiction is the way it is so full of prisms that allow you to see things from so many different perspectives without losing the coherence of narrative and setting. Very highly recommend.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Different from the Movie

Any additional comments?

Atonement is one of my favorite films. The book is also wonderful, but the visuals of the film are stupendous. The book is quite different than the film in some areas, but not significantly. The description of what happened at Dunkirk is especially moving. How easy it is to forget the sacrifice made by so many young men. This book reminds one of the incredible devastation of war.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

My best audiobook yet

When I try to convince friends to get into the audiobook habit, i recommend starting with this one! This is the best of the best. Flawless. Great book and exquisite narration.
By the way, there is another recording of the same book. I recommend this one. Ever since I listened to Jill Tanner reading here, I try to get any other book she is reading. She is my best narrator yet.
In short: a warm recommendation! If you have to listen to just one audiobook ever, this should be the one.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Besides providing an interestingly, densely-detailed picture of the attitudes of the well-bred British in the late 30's, McEwan lays bare some of the ways a writer's mind works, in youth and in maturity. You have to be a bit flexible to go along, but it is well worth it! However, for an overall pleasurable reading experience, I would give the edge to McEwan's _Saturday_. Though both books are set in worlds that seem to have gone mad, _Saturday_ is more uplifting for the reader. There is such a sense of foreboding lying over everything in _Atonment_.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful