Book Review : Atonement

Coverpage of the Book : Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan

There is something so familiar in this book that struck a chord. It’s a tale of an affair with words, the world of imagination , the choices made and consequences eventually atoned for.

This is a story of Ms Briony Tallis. She’s a bored little teenager who dreams big of being a writer one day. A summer that changes her life and the lives of people around her. The story is set amidst the boredom of this girl, her way of coping up with the boredom by imagining a world of drama and thematic challenges. With her brother Leon returning back home from university, it presents her with a wonderful opportunity of hosting a play to entertain the guests.

Briony’s world is her home, her sister Cecillia , Robbie; who is the son of the housekeeper who helps around the Tallis household, Lola and the twins who are her aunt’s kids and are guests in the house. Briony engages Lola and the twins to take part in her play. Briony has a change of heart and decides to call off the play.

She also happens to witness the raw and crude strained love that Cecillia and Robbie share. Her age of ignorance and na├»ve innocence, her lack of understanding of young blossoming love, her pampered outlook towards life, all of this results in her bearing witness to Robbie assaulting Lola. Briony’s testament , her dedicated unwavering conviction to her testimony seals Robbie’s fate.

The story then branches out to its next two acts. Set in the backdrop of Dunkirk, Robbie is now a man, a solider who has one and only reason that drives him to survive the war and return home to his one true love Cecillia. Robbie , of course, is innocent of the crime that he was charged with, finds it hard to forgive Briony but also wants Cec to unite with her family and sister again. The incident had fractured the family and the lives of its people. Forgiveness becomes a commodity that is not easily exchanged.

Act three revolves around Briony’s penance. In time, she realizes the magnitude of her childish act. Now fully aware of the consequences of her actions, the striking difference between words of fiction and words that are stated in the real world, Briony is plagued with the knowledge that her thirst for fiction and drama in life had resulted in fractured lives. Briony decides to face the consequences of bearing the truth.

Atonement is a book that bored me to hell. The pace was slower than a dead horse trying to drag itself from point a to b. While the premise was promising, the execution lacked drama and was far away from it’s potential. Briony’s atonement was barely a crescendo. It fizzed away and drowned in distracted narration , much like a sound of triangle getting lost in a blaring orchestra. By the time one reaches the end, we don’t feel Briony’s burden, we don’t share her guilt, we remain unaffected by the choices of the characters.

I’m glad that this was the last of the 5 that I picked up. Another day, another book read, another lessons learnt and a few ones skipped. I wish I felt inspired to explore the themes that the book covered. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with it to bother that effort.

If you have the time to kill, if someone gifted you this book and you feel compelled to not cheat, not sneak up the plot in Wiki, then have fun reading the book.

Karthik

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Under the same sun

French, German, English, Indian( throw in a few languages there), African, European… the list goes longer and I’m limited by my ability to spot the subtle differences in ethnicity of the world. London , to me, is a wonderful city of sights , sounds, people and life. Commuting in the city is a big part of the life here. It is through such mundane , sober daily toils of a journey, where I’ve come to realize the simplicity of context of my existence. We are, more or less, same under the same sun.

The day started early. I had to find my way to a place where I’ve not travelled before. A friend had called in a favour and I felt obliged to help. This commute took me places. A walk, a bus ride, an over ground rail , an underground tube, a bright sun in the sky, a Friday to appreciate the little things of life, a cup of coffee in hand, a soul that felt rejuvenated from the experience.

I do like to view myself as an observer. I enjoy the state of feeling insignificant in a world filled with people. People who mind their own business, carry out their set of chores , connected and yet disconnected from the world around. This morning was special indeed. A little girl, probably around 4-5 years of age. Could be younger than that. She was a little talkative lady. Innocence had a voice. Beauty had a form. Angels had a face. It was all evident in the little one. She spoke her magic words, she smiled her lovely smile, her mother tried to wash her hands using a mild alcohol rub and the little one played along by not bothering to put up any resistance.

It was a warm fuzzy experience , watching her rub her hands and talk to her mum in a language of her own making. Words spoken. Words that conveyed sincere meanings. Words that needed no translation to transcend the human made boundaries of comprehension or bias. I found myself lost in the moment of sheer bliss. I stood watching the mother and daughter go about their business.

The mother spoke in cuddly cooish French. Ca – Va was all I could comprehend. Ca va , the child acknowledged.

I couldn’t help but reminisce over the nieces and nephews that I’ve had the pleasure of building conversations with. The words have always been similar, the enthusiasm has always been similar, the arguments have always been cute and pointless. There was a sense of familiarity to the whole episode. The angel in that one kid was the ever present angel that I got to see in all the kids that I’ve ever seen.

My undivided attention was soon divided. German this time around. Another mum, another infant. This one was a lot younger than the French little lady. Talkative too. I was surrounded by innocence. I felt relaxed in such a company. The writer in me, the deluded voice in my head , found this to be sigh from the universe that would stand to remind me to embrace the truth. We had the capacity to remain innocent. We all do have the capacity to resist that erosion of moral fibre. We have it in us to remain brave, grounded in principles, surrounded by goodness. Yeah, the writer in me wanted that, Desperately.

The months where I’ve lived in this wonderful city, I’ve seen many cultures. I’ve observed many good people who earn an honest day’s living. The kind of goodness that defies the world plagued by fear. The kind of goodness that reminds all of us the meaning of being human. Mind your business, help those who are in need to be helped, spread the joy through smiles. Face life as it comes. I’d very much like to believe in that version of life.

I’ve also seen violence. Interestingly, in stark comparison to events, it’s not the abundance of violence that overwhelms me. It’s the abundance of love, care and staying human that overshadows the sceptical world of my making. For every act of impolite rudeness, there are ten more that bestow kindness. For every act of deception, there are ten more that remind me the value of honesty. For every sin against the fabric of human, I see a hundred more that sing the gospel of how wonderful it is to be a human.

We are divided by borders, we are divided by beliefs and belief system. There are gods, there are big data data centres, there are folks who believe in either options as the one that would take us to sublime salvation. There is hate and there is love. These two are not engaged in an eternal conflict. Ironically, they both exist. They both are in place and they do leave us with the choice to rest our faith in either of them.

As far as the day is concerned, I feel happy knowing that we are born innocent, we are nurtured to the way we are. Which also implies that common sense dictates that , we as a species, are quite capable of staying human. Kids are a wonderful example of how one stays immune to the pollution that corrupts the fabric of staying a human. It would be childish to say that we can learn a lot from the kids. It would be unwise to discount the simpler truth that kids do lead a simpler , easier life. Not because they have nothing else to do, or strings that don’t mandate their motives. It’s because they have a simpler understanding of the world around. They do what they have to, they learn, adapt and are yet to see the world through filters of bias , fears, insecurities and prejudice.

I think it’s not a stretch to assume that there would come a day, where we’d feel saturated by pointlessness to ideologies of faith, text, cultures that don’t hold water given the context of life. I’d be more than happy should that happen in my lifetime. But it’s coming . It’s inevitable. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.

The innocence is proof enough that the future is safe. After all, aren’t we all the same under the same sun!

Karthik

When in Rome.

One of the funniest aspect of living in the UK is along the way you get greeted. 'You alright?' . The first thing , every day, every new meeting, you are asked the question which is always accompanied by a smile and sincere tinge of politeness. You alright? It is the quintessential ice breaker here in the UK.

Of course, none of that goes down well in my head. I'm from Chennai. Where I come from, When careless motorists ram their vehicle on carefree pedestrians who carelessly , drowned in their pressing mobile call or a whatsapp message, BHAM, accident later, the first question that gets popped is, 'You alright?'.

To me the question is, and probably will be, always tagged to self preservation and overall enquiry about the status of being alive or dead upon an impact. The question is not confined to the road. Walk the canteen with piping hot sambar in your plate( he he he he, irony is humongous. Hot food and canteen!!!), a mad rush during the peak hour and we are bound to bump into someone. Accidental spillage is inevitable. You alright? followed by an awkward sorry boss!

Now that's what I call comforts of home. The parlance is ingrained into the subconscious. The reflexes are sharp. The responses are immediate, to the point and crisp. The instantaneous delegation of blame and accountability is spot on. If we are the guilty one, sorry boss comes up. If we were but innocent victims of circumstance, you alright? sorry boss with a air of entitlement. Human to human interaction at it's elemental best. Yup. That's the way I like things.

Here, it's a different beast. Although I'm a bored shopper , I do accompany my friends when they visit the malls here. Stand idle inside a shop for a little while, vultures start to circle and the inevitable happens. You alright?

Just looking, I'd sheepishly admit. Awkwardly wait a little while longer, I'd get the question asked by another vulture. Endure a few iteration and a random sense of obligation kicks in, exit shop one. Enter shop two.

I've done my part trying to understand the phrase. Of course I failed. It's just the way it is. I trained hard to adapt to it. I still don't offer a 'You alright?' as a response. Much like I don't bother with How do you do to meet a How do you do. Excellent. Not so bad. And smashing. I've found creative and yet perceived as a bit imaginative and annoying way to reciprocate. That being said, my struggle with the question has also been very real. I hate it, I detest it, it irks me. I leaves me uncomfortable. Naturally, I found deliverance by whining about it from time to time.

And so, one late evening I made it back home. The night was cold. The street was deserted at 9. I knew there wouldn't be much movement on the streets that night. The routine was almost set. I'd gently open the front door, soft enough to muffle the creaking sound it'd make. I'd then tippy toe upstairs. The wooden stairs always did announce the return of the king! Two quality gates, passed with flying colours. I always failed the last one. I always, and I mean on most days, would end up slamming my door shut. Call it the breeze, call it carelessness, call it the euphoria of knowing that your bed is a minute away from transporting you to a land of sleepy lazy heaven, net result ; that door would slam. Everybody knew I was in.

Silently I made a mental note to refrain from slamming my door. I reached the house. With an expertise that would put a petty burglar to shame, I opened the front door stealthily. Success.

I walked in, only to notice my neighbour, an Indian, was waiting by the washing machine to wrap it's spin cycle.

This was odd. I never bump into my neighbours. His presence obviously put me off guard. I'm willing to bet that my presence was just as awkward to him as well.

A few seconds of shocking silence later, I thought I might as well get on with the show. Whats up, hey buddy, yo dude, pair laago maaji, I knew I could exercise the birth right of being an Indian by picking a cheesy greeting.

'You alright?' I popped impulsively.

It was his turn to shake his head disapprovingly.

Karthik