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At long last…

April 13, 2009

atonementI have finally read Atonement by Ian McEwan. It’s been sat on my shelf for about six years or more, long before the film was released, which incidentally I did go and see. I thought having seen the film would ruin the enjoyment of reading the book but not so. Fortunately I’d forgotten most of the film and the book was very enjoyable.

One thing I kept wondering throughout, was why the adults of the story were so quick to believe Briony’s testimony of Robbie’s guilt riven as it was with so many unanswered questions, like the fact it was dark and she had no torch how could she be sure it was Robbie who had assaulted Lola and not someone else. The fact that Robbie had found the twins. Did the twins’ testimony come into account? When Lola later married Paul Marshall was she aware she was marrying her rapist (I think she was) and why were the Marshall so quick to litigation? Such questions and more all added to the story and made the unreliable narrator even more unreliable. It showed the uneveness and uncertainty of the story as a whole as much as Briony’s fateful testimony upon which the novel is based. The ending shocked me for the sense that still as a seventy-seven year old woman losing her memories, Briony’s capacity and desire to reinvent and rewrite history is as strong if not stronger than her desire to tell the truth as it is. You wonder afterwards who is being fooled, you as the reader or she as the narrator.

Furthermore, when a great wrong has been committed against someone, is it possible to right the wrong? Is it possible to ever fully forgive? Does, at least from a writer’s point of view, rewriting the past and giving the wronged person some respite from their suffering make it alright? I don’t think it does because after all the person in reailty has still been wronged and is still suffering. In which case, how does one truly atone for the things of the past? How do you make wrong things right? Can you?

I believe that you can, but atoning for wrong involves being forgiven. You can atone but if you are not forgiven, then you are never really free. This is what Briony found and is possibly why she kept rewriting the past, to find a point whereby she could be forgiven.  I guess it’s rather poignant if not timely to be thinking of atonement at this this of year, Easter, when, although a time of celebration of Christ’s resurrection, if you are a Christian, your thoughts do dwell upon sin, atonement and ultimately forgiveness. As from God’s point of view in the Bible, there is no sin too great that He can’t forgive, therefore our past is exactly what it is, past. Atonement and forgiveness are complete in Him. Old things pass away and new life begins.  Amen to that!

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