Friday, September 28, 2007


I think Atonement’s one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen, but I was never that easy with the actual story, even when I read it for the first time years ago. I felt the same uneasiness when reading Enduring Love a few years later and, looking back, what I couldn’t quite reconcile in either of those books struck me as having been a problem in the first book I read by Ian McEwan, Child in Time.

In all of them, even in Atonement when some of the narration is approached from Briony’s perspective, there’s something distant – and distancing – remote and emotionally impenetrable – about his female characters. I never once forgot in Atonement that the writer was male. I was never entirely convinced at McEwan’s attempts at an empathetic perspective.

In Atonement, especially, but at times in the others I’ve read too, his female characters verge on dislikeable: Cecilia’s apparent disdain and sharpness, Briony’s lies and selfishness. In Enduring Love, the protagonist is tortured by his partner Clarissa’s dismissal of, and disbelief in, what is happening to him, and in Child in Time, the loss of their child sees Stephen’s wife, and the mother of the abducted child, cutting him off emotionally and leaving him in their family house alone. The male characters’ loneliness and solitude is almost always marked and measured by their distance from the defensive, chilly women they are in love with. And the fact that Clarissa is eventually nearly killed by the figure she doesn’t believe in, and Stephen’s wife eventually returns to him, it’s almost as if, in Atonement’s epic proportions, and with the memories of the characters from those previous books, it is not the characters specific to Atonement who are the only ones being called to atone.

No comments: