Archive for the ‘Atonement’ Tag



Yesterday, having talked about the creativity of memory, and also the question of guilt, I said I’d review Ian McEwen’s “Atonement.” Then I remembered I had already done so on So today’s entry is easy. All I have to do is copy what I wrote there.

Since mine is one of 1115 reviews, I doubt it’s been of much influence. But here it is for you as I promised, with special emphasis on the trouble created by the creative imagination of a bright teenage girl. I hope you won’t read this entry to suggest that we outgrow our ability to construct inaccurate memories as we grow older. Just think of a recent conversation you’ve had with someone who was at the same event as you and insists you’re not remembering accurately. So who’s right?

Now here’s what I wrote.

“Many reviews have preceded mine, together providing a good outline of the story. So I’ll choose to focus on my reaction to the major theme,

But first, I find I disagree with at least one other reviewer who found the beginning to be gripping. For me, it felt like the beginning of a Russian novel where I was provided with too many names without sufficient context to really grasp their roles. No doubt that reflects more about me than the work itself. I kept reading, though, because my daughter had recommended it, and I found myself richly rewarded.

As the title suggests, the theme is a life of atonement for a catastrophic offense for which 13-year old Briony is responsible. Naïve, appropriately ego-centric for her age, she allows her unusually creative imagination to construe witnessed events she doesn’t have the sophistication to understand into a dramatic and coherent story that ultimately sends once beloved, almost-family-member, Robbie to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In fact, I suspect no crime occurred. Given the character of her cousin Lola, I believe her capable of manipulating Briony into covering up for the inappropriate consensual encounter in which she was really involved.

The author does an amazing job of entering and revealing the complex character of a bright young teenage girl. In fact – true confession – I assumed the author was a woman until I reached the end of the book. The other characters are not so richly developed, with the exception, perhaps, of Robbie who manages ultimately to create a productive and satisfying life, aided by the love of Briony’s sister Cecilia and the atoning act of Briony herself.

I can’t resist expressing some anger with the offense committed by the police, and the rest of the family, who were quick to allow their social class bias to convict Robbie with insufficient evidence. I leave it to you to decide whether there was sufficient atonement on their part.

Yes, I do recommend this novel as a powerful read. And now that I’m smarter about the author, I’ll commit myself to follow through on his other works.”

Posted September 26, 2015 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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Memories   6 comments

Dear Sheila sent a lovely comment in response to my blog yesterday. She kindly suggested supplying me with questions. I especially need those that will direct people to read and discuss “Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses.” So I’d like to apply her question to Dara (Mrs. Job), the heroin of “Figs … “

“Who or what are we without our memories?” she asks. Of course Sheila knows she’s asking a very powerful question. The simple answer to it is, “We are nothing without our memories.” But what about Job’s wife? How did her memories sustain her through the terrible trials and the establishment of a new family after the appearance of the voice in the whirlwind. I’d love to hear how others would answer it after reading the book, but I can’t, of course, avoid making some of my own comments about memories.

First of all, memories are not file folders that store simple data. Every memory is, instead, it’s own creation, based on things that were perceived creatively in the first place. Not only is it a creation, it will be edited anew each time we look back on it. So, “Who are we without our memories?” People incapable of taking our experiences and molding them to fit our view of who we are in the moment.

So what would Dara have called on from the happy, the good, the confusing, the hurtful, the painful experiences she had developed in her life up to the point of the trials? How would she have constructed them to see her through that terrible time?

How would she, in the second phase of her life, have fashioned her memories to make her the person she needed to be to live happily, productively, and lovingly in the years of her second family? How would she have used her memories to honor and love the memory of the lost children of her first family? How would she have used her memories to reconcile with Job’s “friends” who caused him such anguish? How would she have used her memories to reconcile with her God? How would she have constructed them to live with whatever guilt she may have had for her doubt and anger?

Or might she have done with her memories what we all are capable of doing, especially when we have suffered extreme pain, or experiences that make no sense. Would she have simply pushed them back into the non-conscious recesses of her mind? That’s something we all do in large or small part to stay above the pain they cost. It’s a way of sparing us to get on with our lives rather than yielding to immobility.

I’ll try next time to write and share a review of “Atonement“, by Ian McEwen,” the story of the terrible results of an adolescent girl’s false accusations and her subsequent efforts to rid herself of the pain of guilt – quite real by all standards, yet also understandable/explainable.

Thank you dear Sheila for inspiring this answer.

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