When ‘Atonement’ first came out in cinemas at the end of 2007, I went to watch it with a few friends. If I remember correctly, it was New Year’s Eve, and we watched it some time in the afternoon before heading over to South Bank to secure a good fireworks-viewing position. I don’t recall knowing anything about it before watching it, but I remember that I actually really, really liked it. In fact, I probably liked it the most out of all the friends I went to watch it with.
The following year, I had a uni placement out in Cleveland. One day, I arrived early so that I could explore around before heading over to my assigned pharmacy. Unsurprisingly, I ended up in the local library, and it was lucky I did because they were selling off some of their old books. Usually I don’t expect to find anything good in these sorts of sales because they usually just get rid of random old books that no one reads (or has ever heard of), or books that are just about falling apart. I had a look on my way out, and I cannot tell you how delighted I was to find a copy of ‘Atonement’ (by Ian McEwan) among the sale trolleys! And it was in pretty good nick, and was only 50 cents! What good fortune!
I didn’t think twice about buying it, but it has since sat on my shelf for seven years before I finally decided to read it. Well, to be honest, I did pick it up a few years ago, but I mustn’t have been in the right mindset for it, or I must have just finished some epically draining novel, so I just didn’t have the mental energy to read it, and just put it down after a few pages.
I was prompted to read it by the same friend who had lent me her copy of ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. I suppose there are some similarities (themes of war, suffering, relationships, etc) but they are still such different books. Both amazingly well-written though!
‘Atonement’ is one of those books where you have a lot of moments when things just click – when the puzzle pieces fall into place and it’s like a lightbulb has gone off. I had wanted to leave enough space between watching the movie and reading the book so that the former didn’t influence the latter too much, but hadn’t expected to have forgotten so much. Nor had I expected to remember as much as I did. There were parts that certainly sounded or felt familiar, and others that I could not remember at all from the movie (and I’m not talking about small details, but about huge chunks, like the entire part about Robbie going to war).
As soon as I’d finished reading the novel, I decided to re-watch the movie (which I haven’t seen since that NYE all those years ago) so that I could wallow further in the sadness of the story. And what a journey this story has taken me on! Watching it now, almost eight years on, I wonder if I really understood everything that happened in the movie when I first watched it. I mean, I’d just finished high school – there was a lot about the world I was yet to learn.
Watching the movie so close to finishing the novel also made all the omissions so much more glaringly obvious. Really, it just reinforced the reasons why I read: you can get so much more out of a book than a movie. It must be such a challenge for film-makers to adapt books into movies and try to maintain all the feeling and tension and history, let alone trying to decide which scenes will and won’t make the cut.
To describe ‘Atonement’ in a word, I’d probably call it “heart-breaking” (that still counts as one word because it’s hyphenated) or maybe “devastating”. Perhaps “devastatingly beautiful” if you allow me two words.