Ian McEwan’s Atonement is a mesmerizing narrative, and it is difficult to put the book down. The strings of three lives intertwine and rub abrasively against each other. Each seeks a goal, a small portion of heaven on earth, and is thwarted by circumstances and fate. Ian McEwan is a master story teller, and as he spins his web, the characters spring to life. One cannot but help get caught up in the ebb of things, as a coming of age story evolves into a tragedy of sorts.
Robbie and Cecilia, two young people, in rural England, fall in sudden love. The younger sister of Cecilia, Briony, sees them in an inappropriate position. Out of this simple background and childish petulance starts a chain of events which cumulates in a tragedy of almost epic proportions. The background shifts to the Second World War, at the retreat of Dunkirk, out of which come the most remarkable scenes of the novel. In a way the long march to the beaches of Dunkirk increases the tension , as the novel captures the desolation and hopelessness of the defeat, both personal and on the battle field, vividly. The third act, so to say, is with Briony again as she grows up, realizes her mistakes and decides to atone for them.
The atonement really does not happen, as things done cannot be undone. The novel reinforces concepts like karma, where things go beyond one’s control, and one flows with the ebb of time and events. Can the characters find fulfillment in their short and maybe, meaningless, lives? The grand scheme of things overwhelms individuals. It is left to the novelists to bring out pathos and the tragedies of individual lives.
On the whole I would definitely recommend this book for a rainy day(s). Beautifully sculptured, wonderfully sensitive and a novel of beauty. I have not seen the movie, but I suspect it will not live up to the novel. Movie’s rarely do.
Except the next one.
Odds and Ends
I commented on The Third Man in an earlier blog, and I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on it in the September OPEC bulletin. The film apparently was a cult hit when it was released. OPEC is headquartered in Vienna, where the movie was also shot.
The haunting music from the film was composed by Anton Karas. He is seen in this youtube video playing the theme on the zither and a lovely composition by an orchestra here. Wonderful moving stuff.
Raise the Flag
I attended a book launch of a book on the Nation flag, written by Arundhati Virmani. A scholarly work was introduced lucidly by the author at the India International Centre. Arundhati was a reader at the Delhi University’s history department, and then married and left for France where she presently resides. She has written two books in French, and this is her third book. Today she teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Marseille. Her publications include an essay in Past and Present, as well as two books: India 1900–1947. Un Britannique au cœur du Raj (Paris, Autrement, 2002), and Inde. Une Puissance en mutation (Paris, Documentation Française, 200)
It is unfortunate that such gathering attract so little attention in Delhi. A healthy discussion on this topic would really interest me, but alas. Apart from a host of history professors, very little evidence of the aam public was in view.
It was interesting to note the evolution which the flag has been through. Surprisingly, the flag under which the first freedom movement of 1857 took place, has no resonance in the present design. The design of the national flag looks more like a compromise of sorts, but heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.
Arundhati also spoke of recent events, where a PIL was needed to break the shackles the bureaucracy had on the flag. In words of one of the participants, the flag was hijacked by the bureaucracy. Even the present liberal regime of the flag act, to my mind, is unsatisfactory. If I can wear a T-shirt with the Union Jack , why can’t I wear the tri-colour?