Atonement (2)

This morning I spent an hour revisiting the curiously strange postscript to Atonement and have decided, for those who are interested, to append my thoughts here.

How odd the postscript is!

Although Briony’s journal entry is undated, an editor presumably has organized it under the heading, “London, 1999.” We learn that Briony is 77-years old, that she has vascular dementia (not serious yet, although I wonder, as it would neatly explain why she didn’t expurgate certain journal entries!), that she regards it as her duty to describe the crime, that Atonement can’t be published until all the major actors (Paul Marshall, Lola, and Briony herself) are dead for fear of litigation, that Briony has been working on multiple drafts of Atonement from 1940 to 1999, and that it’s only in the last version (i.e., the one we’ve just read) that her “lovers end well,” having dismissed previous drafts as “pitiless” and in the service of the “bleakest realism.”

The question, then, naturally arises, Who wants the postscript appended to Atonement?

Not Briony. She spent 59 years working on the novel and getting the ending just right. She has no interest in rending the illusion of Cecilia and Robbie’s happy fate.

Not the editor or publisher, assuming of course they want to honor Briony’s intentions and the artistic integrity of her novel.

Aside: let’s assume they don’t want to honor her intentions. That means that after Briony’s death not only was Atonement published (2001) but Briony’s extensive — at least judging by the one entry to which we have access — journals, papers, and other miscellanea had been vetted and approved, so that the one journal entry in question could be published in record time as an ancillary to the novel, whose illusion has just now been destroyed. Unlikely.

McEwan, Ian McEwan. Now there’s a double agent who wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants Briony (as narrator) to successfully create an illusion. And McEwan (as author) wants to pull back the curtain on the bright buttons and shiny levers that make Briony’s narrative illusion possible.

But the little rascally dog can’t have it both ways.

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3 Responses to Atonement (2)

  1. Mrs.B says:

    Interesting. I’m going to have to hunt my copy down and read the postscript too. I realise now that the ending I have in my head of Atonement is actually the movie version where Vanessa Redgrave is interviewed for a television programme. I remember wondering why they added that instead of just flashing written parts of the postscript on the screen. I now realise that it didn’t end like that in the book. I’ll have a look and come back soon.

  2. Kevin Neilson says:

    I think the movie handles the ending better than McEwan does. As I recall, Briony is surprised by herself, by her own revelation in front of the camera, about Cecilia and Robbie, a bit shocked and not sure of herself, etc. Cheers

  3. I found the postscript (Part Three) to be the most uninteresting part of the book. It was flat and lacked the dramatic pull of the other parts of the book.

    In my view, the novel begins to fall apart the moment that Briony steps into the room with Cecilia (and later Robbie). An air of unreality overtakes the novel, and I cease to believe it until the close of Part Two.

    Part Three I find dull and anticlimactic, and in the end I felt that the novel didn’t live up to its reputation as a masterwork. Perhaps over time I will change my mind, but that’s how it sits with me now.

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