I've finally finished with this book. I was struggling with part 2 and 3, and at times I just skimmed through. I felt the same as Scott and babypink at first that the war episode dragged on and seemed pointless. But when I got to the ending, it totally changed my perception. To me at least, the Dunkirk retreat shows the last moments of life for Robbie Turner, surrounded with horror and suffering of the war. Now that I see it that way, I appreciate that part more. This section could also be seen in another way. It can be shown that what Robbie goes through is all because of her and that compounds Briony's guilt and later adds to her atonement.
In addition, what makes it interesting is that I found out that the Dunkirk retreat is from his personal experience.
His father, who died in 1996, was a dispatch rider with the Highland Light Infantry and was wounded by shrapnel in both legs during the retreat from Dunkirk; McEwan always knew he would write about it, and he is sorry he wasn’t able to show this novel to his father, who became obsessed with his experiences at Dunkirk in his last years. “He found another man wounded in both arms and together they managed to ride a Harley-Davidson to safety.” The author’s mother, who worked as a cleaning lady, is also present in places in the book; she suffers from vascular dementia, a disease that erases the memory, which afflicts Briony late in life.
What I like is Briony uses the "power of narrative to create and manipulate truth" until the end. It is her ability and power to create the narrative that lets Robbie and Cecilia lives on. To make them immortal in her story I guess is how she fulfills her atonement. At the same time, even McEwan is manipulating us readers into believing his writing.
What I like about McEwan's writing is his characterisation. Each character is richly portrayed and we get to know their innermost, subtlest thoughts, feelings and motivations. Also, I like how he describes a situation with different points of views/perspectives which aptly describes how other people are as alive as you are.
To make it short and sweet, I'd say Atonement is an interesting novel.
This is an interesting paragraph: "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." What do you make of this excerpt?