Mera Joy Aniolga

Forgiving Briony Tallis

In Art, Book Review, Money, Personal on April 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Last year, I read about 52 books. I had a review on each and every one of these books. Some  of the reviews I wrote via this Facebook thingie whose links I lost and forgot, some of the reviews I discussed over a cup of coffee with fellow bookworms, some of the reviews, stuck in my head for good as I was too lazy to type it.

This year, things would be different. I solemnly pledge to be a better “netizen” and to battle boredom using the only method I know, (other than further reading and eating of course!) that would be writing.

Atonement is my first read on the first week of the year. I bought it at Booksale. It costs 160 Php and while a book of this price is way out of my budget, I decided to buy it because at 160, it is such a good deal. (I’m a cheap skate, I buy books that cost 50 Php or less, that’s my rule.) It took me 8 days to finish this book as there are other things that I do aside from reading.

Now for my two cents worth:

The book is divided into 3 parts. One was the introduction of characters which I thought was a bit dragging. I know, Ian McEwan was trying to establish the characters, the plot and what-nots at this part of the book but I thought it was a bit too long and I was bored. In the 8 days that I read the book, I spent 5 days on this part alone. I was probably too anxious for Briony to commit her crime and that did not happen until the last part of Part 1. My eagerness probably explains why I find this part dragging.

Part 2 was gripping. Robbie’s struggle in prison and in the war made me sympathize with him even more. The reunion of Cecilia and Robbie was poignant, more of a bittersweet get-together. It was a happy reunion but a sad farewell. The war was depressing and cruel, the march to the Channel was brutal and almost endless.

This part shows the genius of Robbie. The fact that Mace and Nettle could not speak French or read the compass made Robbie’s superior intellect stand out. Reading this made me hate Briony even more as her crime continues to plague Robbie. He could not get a better rank because he used to be in prison. I also imagine the possibilities that lay before Robbie had Briony not ruin his future. The medical school would have made Robbie a good doctor.

Part 3 of the book was where Briony realized that she made a mistake. That it was not Robbie (Briony’s suspect) or Danny Hardman’s son (Cecilia and Robbie’s suspect) who abused Lola but rather it was the chocolate guy, Marshalls. The wedding of Lola and Paul Marshalls was a eureka moment for Briony as it made her realize how wrong she was at her accusation. Her cousin married her rapist.

This also prompted her to confront her sister. The confrontation was intense as Robbie was there with Cecilia and  Briony was unaware and unprepared to meet him though she managed to make amends for her mistakes by agreeing with the couple that she will set up an appointment with the solicitor, tell the truth to her parents and write a detailed letter to Robbie about it.

This is where the narrative of Briony Tallis ended.

Part 4 was more like a confession. She was about to lose her memory due to some sort of dementia. 77-year-old Briony Tallis sees Lord and Lady Marshalls. She narrates about their struggle over protecting their names. After the encounter at the Museum of War, she headed home and waited to be picked up for her family had planned a birthday party for her at their old house which was converted into a hotel. Leon was there, Perrot was there. But the lovers, Cecilia and Robbie weren’t.

It was then that Briony Tallis revealed that in reality, the lovers were never reunited. That Robbie died while waiting for is evacuation and that his Cee died drowning because of the Blitz.

This book made my cry. Not that it’s unusual for me to cry while reading books. But the tears was due to the anger that I felt for Briony Tallis. I also cried for the lovers as their love was true but time made it impossible for them to be together.

On the first part of the book, I did not really care about her and her crime. I’m so used to the rich falls in love with poor, poor goes to jail because rich’s parents do not want the poor for their child. This is very common, most especially in Filipino movies.  The only twist is that Jack and Emily did not send Robbie to jail, Briony did.

If the reader steps back and sees the whole picture of  Briony’s crime against Robbie, it will make the reader want to kill Briony.

All through out the novel, Briony’s  accusation haunted Robbie. He lost his chance to be a doctor, he was separated from the two women that he loved the most: Grace, his mother and Cee, his true love.

I admire Robbie’s determination to come back and resume his life after prison, to come back to England where Cee is waiting for him. “I’ll wait for you, come back”, the very words of Cecilia pushed him to move forward and survive.

I am not being one-sided as I recognize Briony’s efforts to atone her mistakes. She turned out to be England’s Martha Cecilia, the prolific writer of love stories. I assume she was thinking of Robbie and Cecilia in every characters of every story that she wrote. She was tormented but it served her well.

As a child, I forgive her for being stubborn but as an adult, but I can not forgive her for being a coward. I can tell that she was tormented but she deserved it.  Never having the guts to apologize to Robbie or Cecilia, by my standards is another crime under her name.

She may have made up for her sins by reuniting them in her novel, No Time for Love or as in the novel Atonement, Two Figures in the Fountain. It was Robbie and Cecilia that she was reuniting in each and every novel that she wrote.

Machiavelli said, “the end justifies the means” but in Briony’s case, her end can not and will never be able to justify her crime.

To quote Cecilia in the 3rd Part of the Book, “Don’t worry, I will never forgive you”.


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  1. But she couldn’t apologise to Robbie or Cecilia. By the time she realised her mistake Robbie was away at war, never to return. She didn’t fully comprehended that it was Marshall until the wedding. By that time Robbie had died, and her cowardice was in not visiting her grieving sister.
    Great review. A great book!

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