Saturday, April 3, 2010

Atonement: Meh

While in Europe, I read Ian McEwan's Atonement. I had read good things about the book, and an author I enjoy (although now I can't remember who) even recommended it in some interview I read. It was well written, but the problem is, nothing really happens. Or at least nothing happens until page 146, the beginning of Chapter 13, which starts "Within the half hour Briony would commit her crime."

I knew Briony was going to do something...that part was on the back cover. I had just sort of expected it to happen before page 146. I'm actually glad the chapter started this way, because I was beginning to think that perhaps I had just overlooked whatever it was Briony was going to do. The book begins prior to World War II, so up until page 146, I was torn between wondering when the event was going to happen, and thinking that maybe I had missed it because it was a crime of social convention that I didn't know about, or just no longer held true in 2010.

Most stories have a moment when the story becomes a story. Think about the Disney classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What if the mirror never told the evil queen that Snow White was the most beautiful? What if the evil queen decided that she really didn't care what a mirror thought? What if her woodsman killed Snow White like he was ordered to? If any of these things happened, we wouldn't have the story, or the story we'd have wouldn't be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But all of this takes place at the beginning of the story, not the middle.

Even in other stories, such as Jody Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, the bit that make it a story (Anna decides she wants to sue her parents because they've been using her blood, etc, which is a perfect match for her sister, who has cancer), happens in the beginning. Through flashbacks we learn what happens before Anna's decision.

In Atonement, all that happens up to page 146 is a bunch of different characters do a lot of thinking. I can see why they turned it into a movie.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! I thought "Saturday" was one of the most riveting books I'd ever read, so I was stunned to find myself bored with "Atonement"!