I still haven’t seen the film because when it was launched I hadn’t read the novel yet and I didn’t want to spoil my reading experience. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and I intend to see the film this weekend.
The most striking thing in this story is perhaps Briony’s imagination. Emma Woodhouse pales compared to her. And I’m sure Emma would never be able to let her imagination take such evil routes, because even when she used it in a far less generous way towards Jane Fairfax, she was kind enough to, at least, pretend she would understand the reasons for Jane’s supposed misbehaviour. Briony Tallis does not not have such a good heart. Her imagination fuels itself and justifies her behaviour to such an extent that at the end you ask yourself if there was indeed any sort of atonement at all.
The other thing is the way McEwan describes London on those days of war seen from Briony’s eyes. The passage of the two girls in the apparent idyll of St James’s Park and their return along Westminster just to find the bloody reality of war waiting for them across the river is brutally melancholic. When Briony looks out the window and sees the sky light fading against the towers of the Parliament you have the sensation that time is suspended and all of that could be happening now. Our own time and future are suspended in a spell of uncertainty. Brilliant, but deeply sad.
McEwan, I. (2007) Atonement. London: Vintage.