Vivid and talented writing that makes you think and delivers a provocative philosophical point, without being anything less than remarkably entertaining. That's Atonement.
Yes, it starts a little too slowly, but picks up quickly. By the end, you'll hardly feel like you're reading, the movement is so swift. I urge you to stay with it, to revel in McEwan's skill as the novel picks up speed.
What does it mean to know something? That's the question Atonement explores. The young protaganist is sure she's seen her sister attacked; she's mistaken, but the mistake is neither malicious nor unjustified. It's a result, simply, of how the human mind processes information.
To make the point clearer, McEwen shows us the British retreat at Dunkirk in vivid detail, but the details aren't what we who "know" what happened at Dunkirk might expect. In one scene, an RAF flyer is attacked for his units failings. The reader thinks: But the RAF were heros of the war. Yes, but not yet. As the novel shows us again and again perceptions are fluid, changing and inexact.
This point is made again and again in large and small ways as the novel unfolds, and finally, again, at the very end, when everything we've seen so far is undone with a sentence.
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