Saturday, March 1, 2008

At the end of the day, it's still fiction.

Okay, I'm DONE with Atonement.

[Caution: a lot of spoilers. You should assume that with any post on any book I'm reading, because I keep this blog to keep track of my thoughts around particular books. But because of the nature of this book, I am SPECIFICALLY warning people who have not read it.]

So, I got tipped off into how this was going to be because Vivian told me it was metafiction (blast you!). And obviously, the section where Briony gets this letter from this magazine that she sends her novella to, it gave it away too.

I don't know.

I really like the CONCEPT. And I also really like the THEME. But I truly hated those first pages, not because the language wasn't good, but because it was so flipping self-indulgent. And okay, once I've gotten through the rest of the novel, I get that it's purposeful -- it's the first attempt by a younger Briony attempting to do a Woolf thing. I get that there's supposed to be a shift in voice between part 1 and part 2. But I just HATED it. I hated the characters so much that I elsewise never would have gotten through the novel.

But part 2 I loved. And part 3 with Briony as a nurse -- it was well rendered. That section with the boy with his brain exposed? My favorite scene in the entire thing. So touching and different.

And I liked, a lot, the ending, even though I saw it coming. Once I knew that it was fiction, then I knew that Briony would have changed a tragic ending. It was inevitable. But I liked it. I liked how McEwan ends it, hits you over the head with the whole atonement thing, and at the same time, gives you a reminder of what it means to be a writer:

The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.
--[pgs. 350-351, Atonement]


It's fascinating to me, this idea of writers as God. That as writers, we seek to make sense of a world that makes no sense -- ESPECIALLY if we are atheists or believe there is little rhyme or reason to this world. As writers, we struggle to give meaning to that which has no meaning. And we try to right the wrongs that can never be righted. Because in novels, there is a world order. A morality. No one wants to read a story in which there are no learnings, no lessons, in which the world doesn't have rules that follow that which we believe should be how the world moves. And why shouldn't an author try to be God and find redemption? What else do authors do but work through all our many issues with ourselves and the world?

But it's all a fiction. That's the point. We can write and write, but at the end of the day, it's our own fiction.


So I really appreciate McEwan for this. For crafting something so clever to bring to life this idea. The twist saves it for me. And I get it. I see how he's put this together. So it was redeemed.

But. Really. Nearly 200 pages to get to that "crime"??? I get it, but I still wish he'd been edited with a closer hand in the beginning. It drove me nuts, and it's only the obsessive a-type I am that saved me from dropping the book altogether.

Okay, next: I'm going to watch the movie :)

p.s. I am very sad Robbie died. I loved him.

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