Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement is a 2001 British metafictional novel written by Ian McEwan. Set in three time periods, 1935 England, Second World War England and France, and present-day England, it covers an upper-class girl’s half-innocent mistake that ruins lives, her adulthood in the shadow of that mistake, and a reflection on the nature of writing.

In the heat wave that hits England in August 1935, the young Briony has found her vocation: she will be a novelist. At the age of thirteen, she sees the novel as a way to decipher the world. But when she surprises her older sister Cecilia with Robbie, a servant’s son, her naïve reaction to the desires of the adults will cause a tragedy. Three lives change and diverge, only to meet again five years later, in the chaos of war, between the rout of Dunkirk and the beginnings of the Blitz. But is it still time to atone for a childhood crime?

A novel in the great tradition of fiction, in which Ian McEwan, while questioning the powers and limits of fiction, restores, with equal mastery, the tremors of a conscience and class relations, the indifferent splendour of nature and the torments of History blind to individuals.


Ian Russell McEwan, born 21 June 1948, is an English novelist and screenwriter. In 2008, The Times featured him on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945” and The Daily Telegraph ranked him number 19 in its list of the “100 most powerful people in British culture”. 

McEwan’s universe is a sordid world where a permanent malaise reigns.

In Atonement (2001), Ian McEwan questions the manipulative power of writers: a novelist writes that as a child she accused her sister’s lover of rape. Her story intertwines two tragic stories: that of a shattered happiness and that of a lost innocence.

McEwan began his career writing sparse, Gothic short stories. He won the Booker Prize with Amsterdam (1998). Later novels have included The Children Act, Nutshell, and Machines Like Me. He was awarded the 1999 Shakespeare Prize, and the 2011 Jerusalem Prize.


Louise Dufossé



Related Articles