Saturday, 30 August 2008


I haven’t read as much of Ian McEwan’s work as I should have done since I first came across his early, eerie short stories when I was a student. This isn’t due to any lack of appreciation of his work – he is a fine writer. Atonement is widely regarded as one of his best novels, and I seized the chance the other day to watch the recent film version.

It’s a film of different parts and I didn’t find all of them equally compelling. However, the crucial first section, with a ‘Golden Age’ type of setting in a 1930s country house, is quite brilliant. A young girl observes a relationship developing between a couple of young lovers, and misinterprets their relationship. I thought this splendidly and subtly done. The girl, Briony, then does something terrible which will destroy the couple’s lives. Again, this part of the story is convincing, moving, and emotionally very dark

The war-time scenes that follow involve a complete change of mood and setting and I wasn’t sure that this worked perfectly (though I should add that many good critics disagree.) The final scenes – that featuring Vanessa Redgrave and the late Anthony Minghella in particular - do, however, bring the story to a very effective and poignant conclusion.

I thought this a good film, despite having a few reservations. But I suspect the book is even better.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought so. But I like all of his books, even the sometimes maligned Saturday and On Chesil Beach.

Anonymous said...

I loved both (apart from the typewriter soundtrack in the film, which I thought was "ramming the point home" with lack of subtlety. I did enjoy the book more: as usual the written form taps dimensions that films can only skate over. That having been said, I wept more buckets during the film than I did in the book. And the green dress was pretty sensational in the film.

john morris said...

I'll weigh in on the other side. Like you, I enjoyed McEwan's earlier, less staid books and stories. But since then, he's developed an infernally boring style, and it was all I could do to finish "Atonement."

The film, I thought, salvaged what was good in the novel (the period settings, the emotional tangles among the characters) and liberated them from McEwan's prose into an effective, if still somewhat dull, two hours.

Apologies, Ian -- and to all his fans!

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. Not sure when I'll get round to the book to see with whom I agree most!

crimeficreader said...

I saw this recently, too. (Perhaps we both succumbed to a reasonable DVD price in a supermarket?)
I didn't expect to enjoy it but I did, although it was also unbearably sad. The saddest part for me was the ease with which the family accepted the daughter's "witness statement", but there also seemed to be no assertive denial on the part of the accused. (Or did I forget to hit "pause" when foraying into the kitchen?)
I came to this fresh and had no idea where it was going, so it was a great ending for me. I thought the war scenes were character building and essential for the denouement, apart from an overlong experience of the beaches that seemed surreal on times.
I shall watch it again and make sure I hit the pause button if I am distracted in any way.
As for McEwan's writing, the last book I read was Saturday which has reviews on Amazon resembling the standard distribution curve. I thought it was pretty good, with much the pace of a thriller. Chesil Beach has been on my radar for some time, but I am yet to obtain, let alone read a copy! I am so slow with my reading these days, it seems...

Anonymous said...

I've read his entire output as I'm very keen on his writing. For me, Atonement is his masterpiece, closely followed by the much older A Child In Time.
I was not so keen on Saturday though, like all his books, it was an experiment in form. I liked bits of it. I very much liked On Chesil Beach but it is more of a long short story than a novel. McEwan began his published career with short stories and I think he is superb in this medium.

Whatever, I always find Ian McEwan's books refreshingly unpretentious compared with many of the modern-day "literati".