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'Atonement' by Ian McEwan

 
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ejm
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Come to Life. Come to Laziness.

PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2008 9:39 am    Post subject: 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan Reply with quote

Speaking of wordiness (cough - sorry - once I got started, I couldn't stop):


After a discussion with colleagues about the greatness/deadliness of Ian McEwan's writing, I decided to try reading one of his books: Atonement. The reason? They all agreed that Saturday was on the slow side (slow side?? it was standstill!) but that Atonement was the best book they'd ever read, couldn't put it down, fantastic, etc. etc.

And once again, I broke one of my cardinal rules for reading a book. I continued past the first chapter even though it felt like a slog. (I did love the first paragraph though. First paragraphs are how I decide whether to read a book at all.)

I'd agree that Atonement moves a little faster. And there were some parts of it that I loved. But McEwan is constantly changing viewpoints. Just as I'd get to a section that I thought was great, I'd rip through it, devouring it, thinking "oh this is what they're all talking about! This is grea... oh oh" - the ohoh representing the moment that a new viewpoint took over. Along with pages and pages and pages and pages of text going on and on over the character's thoughts.

I did finish it. And it was a good book. But for my taste not the greatest book ever. About 3/4 of the way through, there was the perfect explanation about why I am not McEwan's biggest fan.

Spoiler (highlight to read):
It was the letter of rejection that Briony received for her novella "Two Figures by a Fountain". The letter itself is incredibly long and wordy but firmly held my attention.
...quote...
...we wondered whether it owed too much to Mrs. Woolf. The crystalline present moment is of course a worthy subject in itself, especially for poetry [...] However, such writing can become precious when there is no sense of forward movement. Put the other way round, our attention would have been held even more effectively had there been an underlying pull of simple narrative. Development is required
...endquote...

And there it was!! In black and white. Exactly what I complained about in Saturday and exactly what was bothering me in Atonement. (Exactly what bothered me when I tried to read Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet With both Woolf and Durrell, I was struck by their wonderful descriptive and visual ways of writing. But it was like walking through a gallery and looking at fabulous painting after fabulous painting and being unable to get any sense whether the paintings had anything to do with each other, only able to think about the fact that I was tired and was it time to stop yet?)

When I got to the next part

Spoiler (highlight to read):

....quote...
[R]ather than dwell for quite so long on the perceptions of each of the three figures, would it not be possible to set them before us with greater economy, still keeping some of the vivid writing about light and stone and water which you do so well but then move on to create some tension, some light and shade within the narrative itself. [...] I'm sure [even your most sophisticated readers] retain a childlike desire to be told a story, to be held in suspense, to know what happens.
...endquote...


I found myself shouting out loud, "Yes!! That's the problem!!" Too bad McEwan didn't pay attention to himself.

Call me shallow, but with the zillions of books out there to read and so little lifetime left to read them, it's unlikely that I will read anything else by McEwan. Unless someone gives me a very very good reason to change my mind....



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David
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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2008 2:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't read the book so I don't know how it compares with the movie but I don't like the movie even though I'm actually in it. (I was an extra in the invasion of Dunkirk scenes filmed in Redcar which is a few miles from where I live).
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Mats
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PostPosted: Fri 11 Apr, 2008 9:00 am    Post subject: Might not be the answer Reply with quote

ejm, as you are looking for a McEwan novel where he gets on with the narrative, I thought of recommending "On Chesil Beach". It is a short novel and covers just one day. I found it affecting; perhaps you will find it a slow narrative. Here's the NYT review http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/books/review/Lethem-t.html
As for the "Alexadrian Quartet", well heck, when a fellow takes 4 books to tell the story, you just know it's going to be a long ride!


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ejm
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Come to Life. Come to Laziness.

PostPosted: Fri 11 Apr, 2008 2:38 pm    Post subject: Re: Might not be the answer Reply with quote

MEF wrote:
I thought of recommending "On Chesil Beach". It is a short novel


Hmm, I don't know that I would come right out and say I was actively looking for a McEwan novel to read. But "short novel" sounds good if it's McEwan. skip

MEF wrote:
[...] and covers just one day.


Oh oh. Oh oh Sounds awfully familiar. Now, if it were a short story covering just one day, I'd be inclined to give it a try. Thanks for trying though.

Instead, I'm going to read something guaranteed to be light and fun - one of the Donna Leon "Guido Brunetti" books should be arriving at the library for me any moment. I see it's marked "in transit". And after that, I'm going to read "Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane.



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