As the title suggests, this is a novel about lies, remorse and redemption. The central character is Briony Talis, a thirteen year old with a gift for writing, and the overactive imagination it requires. When her young cousins run away after a late summer dinner party, the family scatters to search the grounds of their upper middle class estate. A crime is committed and Briony is at the centre of the accusations and trial that follow. The central portion of the book deals with the lives of the accuser and the accused during World War II. Intense descriptions of the fatigue and horror felt by the characters make the war live in a series of moving chapters. The book wraps up with a tribute to the elderly Briony, now a renowned writer, by her extended family and Briony’s reflections on the nature of her atonement.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This is not a quick read for the beach. McEwan favours long, long descriptions of the surroundings and thoughts of his characters, and sometime the same events are presented from different points of view. Much of the first part of the book is given over to character sketches and the perceptions of various family members about one another. For example, Briony’s quiet reflections on what drives the movement of her fingers, and whether others have the same control of their bodies and emotions, are given an entire page. With careful attention however; the reader is rewarded with stunning language and fresh insights.