Atonement

By: Ian McEwan


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Week 1
: March 1 (P.3-72)
Parts:
A: Shellie
B: Alisha
C: Jess
D: Tori

Topic Question- Alisha
main characters in your text. What makes them interesting? What is their story or background? Why are you drawn to them? Conversely, are there any characters that you just cannot stand? Why not?
After reading the first part of Atonement by Ian McEwan, we were introduced to the three main characters: Briony and Cecilia Tallis, and Robbie Turner.
Briony Tallis is a very mature thirteen-year-old, who has a passion for writing. She is very organized and her room is almost too perfect as she likes things to go her way and feels the need to have control in any possible situation. Briony holds great admiration towards Leon, her older brother. Being the baby of the family, she feels the need to prove herself to others, especially Leon because he is so much older and accomplished. Briony is jealous of the relationship that Cecilia and Leon have; the relationship that she wants with her brother, but lacks due to the age difference.
Cecilia Tallis, although lazy at times, she is a very independent, and strong woman; she feels that she does not need a man to help her, and does not want to be portrayed as weak, like her mother. She wants to be more accomplished than the average housewife.
Robbie Turner, a very competitive man, he tries to smooth the edges of the relationship that he has with Cecilia, but seemed to have only made it worse. He is very driven, although he does not come from a strong background he has great aspirations to become a doctor, and tries to do his best at every task given.
At this point in the book, there has not been much of an incite to Robbie and Cecilia, but we will see how Briony's personality brings great problems to the characters, including herself.


Meeting Summary- Jess
For book club round 3, we chose to read the national bestseller Atonement by Ian McEwan. Shellie brought in orange juice and crumb cake for us to enjoy while we were discussing the beginning of the book. Alisha and I have already seen the movie, and we both enjoyed it, though Alisha remembers more descriptions than I do. We all agree that the book is interesting, though slow- moving. Most of what we have read so far is all about introducing the characters and showing the relationships and connections between all of the characters. We first discussed the relationship between Leon and Briony. Briony seems to want to impress Leon, because her father is gone most of the time, so he seems like the dominant male figure in the family. Also, he is gone for long periods of time because he goes to school. She knows that Leon and Cecilia have a great relationship due to their closeness in age, and Briony wants to also be close to him, so she tries to show him how intellectual, fun, and grown up she is in order to become closer to him. We concluded that Briony has OCD due to the fact that she wants everything to be perfect. She makes her toy farm animals all face their owner, she puts her dolls perfectly in their doll house, and she stormed out of the room as soon as the play was not going exactly as she wanted. Also, her room is extremely room, as was the one that no one lived in. The relationship between Robbie and Cecilia was a strange one. They seemed to have had a past, and they seemed to make a connection. It was as if they had a love- hate relationship. The breaking of the vase proved that they are competitive and that Cecilia is independent. Cecilia did not want or need a man to help her, and she refused to be a weak woman, and looked at as just another future housewife. Once done with all of the questions, we discussed what we learned of the characters, and what we expect to happen to each one of them, including what Briony will conclude about what she had seen Cecilia and Robbie doing by the fountain.

Questions- Tori
1. Why do you think Briony is so obsessed with impressing Leon?
Because her sister is so out of it and she admires people who are put together, she looks up to him as the one that is organized and on top of things. She also views him as the central, strong male figure in her life because her dad is always gone on business. Lastly, since Leon lives in England, it is a special occasion when he comes home.
2. How would you describe Cecilia and Robbie’s relationship?
Cecilia and Robbie certainly have a love-hate relationship. It appears that they have some sort of emotional history based on the awkwardness they share, and you can tell Cecilia likes him. There are things she doesn't like about him though, like how he’s constantly jumping from one idea to the other bothers her, and how opinionated he is.
3. Do you think Briony’s love of order is reflective of OCD?
She does come across as a bit crazy- she strives for perfection, has astronomically unrealistic expectations, and everything in her room is arranged in absolutely perfect order.
ronanatonement.jpg4. Why did Briony abandon the rehearals?
She is jealous of Lola and her assumed role of authority and maturity in the play. Also, the play is not coming out perfect like she wanted, she didn’t have authority or importance anymore in it's outcome, and that bothered her.
5. How did the breaking of the vase affect the relationship between Cecilia and Robbie?
It made Cecilia angry and left everything hanging in a very tense sort of situation. It also revealed Cecilia's feminist and competitive side, showing how she wouldn't let a man do everything for her.
6. Briony witnesses the fight between Cecilia and Robert. How do you think this will affect the outcome of the story?
Briony lives in her own fantasy world inside her head, and when she sees the fight, she thinks at first it is a proposal, and then she assumes much deeper and darker things are happening. Because Briony has an affinity for hyperbole, this might turn out to negatively affect both Robbie and Cecilia.



Week 2: March 8 (P.73-145)
Parts:
A: Tori
B: Shellie
C: Alisha
D: Jessarts-graphics-2008_1130414a.jpg
Meeting Summary-Alisha
We have now read 2/5 of Atonement, the plot is thickening, and we discussed the possibilities of things to come while eating Tori's delicious corn muffins. We discussed how McEwan can describe a situation from each character's point of view. We saw of this can become repetitive and boring when other authors use this method, but McEwan describes the same scene in so many different ways and points out something different each time depending on the character's perspective. We spent a lot of the time describing the development of Robbie and Cecilia's relationship, and how a mistake letter may change the fate of every character. We also analyzed the situation with Lola, Briony's cousin; we believe that she may be covering up the truth to protect herself. We have an idea about what really happened based on what Lola had described. In this section you also see that Briony's obsession for being perfect led to the end of her play, leaving her twin cousins in disappointment, which also may have been a factor in their escape. This section was really builiding up to the next part of the book, which we are really excited to discuss at Friday's meeting.

Questions- Jess
1. Why does Robbie now see Cecelia as beautiful when he used to think she looked horsey?
Their friendship evolved from where it started, and the fountain scene sparked their true feelings for each other.
2. How do you think Cecelia feels about Robbie’s note?
Cecelia obviously has feelings towards Robbie, and these feelings truly showed once she read the note. She realized that she really liked Robbie once she read his not to her.
3. Why does Leon believe that no one is mean-spirited? Do you agree with this?
People do stupid things, but don’t mean to be mean in the process of these things. We do not agree with this because there are some people who enjoy seeing people upset, while some others truly do not want to be mean.
4. Why do you think Cecelia changed her clothes so many times?
Cecelia wants excitement in her life, and she feels like she can change up who she is by completely changing her outfits. She is also very indecisive. She wants to look good for Robbie

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and the other guests. She cannot decide between Marshall and Robbie, so she changes many times.
5. Why are the twins so violent towards Lola?
They want to go home, which makes them testy. Little brothers also tend to be aggressive. We do not think that they were actually violent towards Lola. We believe that she actually had sex with Marshall, because of the scratch on his face. He might have raped her in our opinion. We think this because she has many bruises, and she might have tried to fight Marshall back, which explains his scratch. The brothers were never there when they were accused, which meant that they could not defend themselves, which makes us think that Lola is trying to cover the rape or having sex with a much older man at the age of 15 or 16.
6. What do you think happened to the twins?
They got tired of being at the house, and they need a stable environment, which the house is not. They feel like strangers in the house, and they think that they are plainly seen as annoying guests. They are acting out to get attention.
7. What will Briony tell the police about what she saw happen between Cecilia and Robbie and Robbie's note to Cecilia?
She might say that the kissing and touching was not mutual. She seems to think that Robbie is a sex maniac because of his letter, which means that she might accuse him of raping her older sister Cecilia.
8. What was going on in the library in your mind?
The kissing and touching was consensual, which means that Robbie was not raping Cecilia. We believe that their true feelings were finally out in the open, and they were going along with those feelings.

Topic Question: Part B (Shellie)

The language in Atonement is a huge contributing factor to the quality of the book. Ian McEwan's strong vocabulary keeps the reader interested without boring or losing them. The words used are just the right medium of known words, recognizable words, and words that need to be looked up in the dictionary. The dialogue flows nicely without seeming too forced or too thoughtful. The vocabulary definitely signifies that this book is meant for young adults, typically high school age.

Week 3: March 8 (P.73-145)
Parts:
A: Jess
B: Tori
C: Shellie
D: Alisha

Topic Question- Tori

Atonement is definitely not a lighthearted book. There are parts in which the characters engage in cheery activity, the entire book has an ominous cloud of gloom that almost sinks into all the pages and weighs everything down. Even the things that could be happy end up having dark undercurrents and twists. I think Ian McEwan writes this way on purpose, because the portentous words and actions pull you in and keep you reading through some parts that, without this expert tonal control, would drag.
Although Atonement has an almost palpable feel of ominous darkness to it, Ian McEwan ties in a thread of hope the entire way, like a glimmering light at the end of a long, dark, dank tunnel. Through all the bad twists and misfortune that befall the characters, something in his writing keeps you reading and hoping for them, hoping for the best. He has this way of seamlessly melding cynicism and hope that keeps the book flowingly eloquent and interesting.
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Meeting Summary [Part C]: Shellie

This week in book club, Jess brought yummy chocolate donuts and fruit punch. After eating, we discussed Alisha’s questions.
We think Briony was over exaggerating things. She doesn’t always know exactly what goes on, so she exaggerates and believes what she thinks because she likes the way it sounds. Briony also assumes things instead of asking for an explanation and figuring out what really happened. We think she enjoys the drama because she is such an avid writer, and wants everything like it is in her head. She wants her life to be dramatic like a play or a story that she can write herself.
We agree that the transitions can be hard to follow, especially because the current storyteller and the scene they are in is always changing. The story can switch between Briony at home to Cecilia and Robbie and it can get a little difficult to follow.

Discussion questions- Alisha
1. Do you think Briony made up what happened?
Briony likes to write and she has a tendency to elaborate and added details to the story to make it sound more interesting.
2. Do you think Cecilia will ever forgive her family esp. Briony?
NO, she didn’t have a very good relationship with her mother to begin with and she does not seem like she will make an effort because of the way they turned their back on Robbie based on something that Briony said was true. She might forgive Leon because they have always had a close relationship.
3. Why do you think that Briony made assumptions instead of letting Lola telling her what happened?
Because Briony likes exciting things and she likes to bend the truth to make it sound more appealing. She wants her life, the events, and the people in it to be more dramatic like one in her stories.
4. When Lola kept saying you saw him, she did not know who it was but do you think that ‘him’ meant Robbie?
Briony assumed that Lola meant Robbie based on their previous discussion, but she never really specified and Briony assumed that it was Robbie; it could have been Marshall.
5. What do you think will happen in the future in terms of the relationship between Robbie and Cecilia?
Cecilia may doubt the relationship and it seems complicated and she may want to end it but she does not realize it. She feels forced to stay in the relationship and she cannot just leave him after everything that he has been through and she feels as though she is in debt to him because he is at war because of her families decisions.
6. Transition between Briony and Robbie.
We agreed that it was hard to follow at first and when we first read this chapter we were unsure of who’s point of view the story was from and what events were taking place.

Week 4: March 19
Parts:
A: Alisha
B: Jess
C:Tori
D: Shellie

Discussion Questions- Shellie
1. In what ways are Leon's, Marshall's and Robbie's personalities alike? In what ways are they different?
Robbie and Paul are both very calm and quiet, where Leon is more outgoing. They are all friendly people, but Leon tends to be the instigator of conversation. Robbie and Paul are both kind of awkward in social situations, though.

2. Why do you think Lola doesn't clarify what happens between her and Marshall?
She's scared of what everyone is going to say, and she doesn't want to be hated like Briony for saying something that isn't true. She also might be ashamed to talk about it and unsure of what actually happened.

3. In what ways are the theme of love present?
The love in the story is all very strong love- the love between Robbie and Cecila who loved each other over such a distance for so long. The family love is strong too, which is evident between Cecila and Leon and the parents and the children.

4. Why do you think Briony was driven to become a nurse rather than attend Cambridge University?
She wanted to get far, far away from her family and break out of the strictures of what happened. She also may want to make up for what happened by helping other people- kind of erasing her past mistakes. She also wants to be independent, which you saw in the beginning of the book.

5. How has Briony changed since the start of the book? How has she stayed the same?
Briony still has fantasies about the world, and still sometimes lives in her dream world, but she's begun to come back to reality and has matured. She has realized the huge consequences of her actions and has started to make up for them.
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Topic Question- Jess B.
The scene at the beginning of the book that took place at the water fountain seemed to be very important. While Cecelia and Robbie were having their argument, the vase Cecelia was holding broke. This broken vase represents all of the love quarrels in the book. The book starts off by introducing the family, which seems to have some internal problems. The family members seem to have a love-hate relationship with each other. Cecelia and Briony are sisters who care for each other, yet they hate some things about each other. Briony and Lola did not get along at first, but when Lola was crying for help, Briony was there for her. Robbie and Cecelia fought over a vase and many other things, but at the end, it was realized that they truly had feelings for each other. Cecelia glued the vase back together, and though it seemed like it was never broken, a better look at it would show otherwise. This is like the family, because at times, it seems as though they are one big loving family, but at other times, their true flaws come out and show the tension in the family, and even with family friends.
This book seems to have a theme of miscommunication and misinterpretation. Things seem to be communicated and interpreted the wrong way, causing many problems between the characters in the book. The main character that misinterprets is Briony. She seems to always see important scenes in the book. She also over thinks these scenes that she sees, and she makes them more interesting in her mind, because she wants real life to be like her drama plays. Briony starts many problems with all of her views on certain things that happened.

Meeting Summary- Tori
This week, Alisha brought in snacks for us. We had green tea and raspberry danish crumb cake. After we finished eating, we discussed Shellie's questions. We spent a long time talking about the second question and about the situation between Lola and Marshall. They have a lot of dysfunction in their relationship, especially with the suspicion of rape earlier in the story. After we were done with the questions, we also discussed different outcomes for the book and for Robbie and Cecilia's relationship.



Week 5: March 26
Parts:
A: Shellie
B: Alisha
C: Jess
D: Tori



Topic Question- Alisha
We really enjoyed reading this book; it showed how one person's actions can impact the lives of the others around them. The language in the book is slightly difficult, as it has more advanced vocabulary. This book should be considered for high school students, besides the vocabulary, the subject matter can be more appreciated by older students who can understand and analyze the book. This book was very informative of that time period, and showed the struggles of the young man at war. In the book, you can see how each character matures and develops in their thinking. At times this book showed true courage and was very inspiring.

Discussion Questions- Tori
1. Do you sympathize with Briony? Can you understand why she acted as she did?
No, because she isn't a very likable character. She doesn't seem like her repentance is real or genuine, and since it won't do anything, it doesn't carry much weight.

2. Did the ending surprise you? In what ways?
We didn't expect Briony to admit she was wrong, especially with the kind of person she is. But Alisha expected it, because Briony likes the attention and the sympathy.

3. What kind of a person is Emily Tallis (the mother)? Why does McEwan decide not to have Jack Tallis (the father) make an appearance in the story?
The father wasn't in it because McEwan wanted to show how the family wasn't very coherent and they had many dysfunctions. He also seemed to constantly be making exuses for not coming home- he wanted to avoid all the issues and the problems at home. The mother played into this too, because she wanted to care and be a good mom, but she had so many health problems her children lost respect for her as an authority figure. She kind of gave up being a good mom because she had lost her control over her children.

4. How does being the youngest sibling affect Briony’s actions throughout the novel?
She thinks she can get away with things, because youngest children do have a sympathy factor and a sort of a permanent innocence. Even when she grew up, she was babied by her family. Also, she wanted attention as an adult- she wanted people to respect her, so she made things up to have people pay attention to her.

5. As an old lady, Briony reveals that much of what she has told the reader is not true. Is this atonement of the title for her benefit or for ours?
She is doing it for herself, because everything she does has been for herself. She's a selfish person, so the only reason she said she was sorry was because she wanted to feel better herself, to have closure. Her apology seems self-centered too. Plus, she has waited so long to say something that it has no value now. She also might be looking for a catharsis so she can die easily.

Meeting Summary: Jess B.
For our last meeting for this book club, we discussed our final thoughts on the book while enjoying the bagels and orange juice that Shellie brought in for us. We seemed to agree on most of the topics that we discussed. We said that we do not feel very sorry for Briony, because she was not very genuine with her apology. We felt like she did not really care about anyone's feelings except her own. Though we did not expect an apology from Briony, we did not think that it was much of an apology. We thought it was more for her own closure. She wrote her book in order to let her feelings out to make her feel better about herself. She did not have anyone that wanted to listen to her reasoning for all of her lies and extensions of the truth, so she saw writing a book as a way for her to vent out her feelings instead of keeping them inside of her and feeling worse about herself. Briony was babied her entire life, which is why she made up so many lies. She wanted the attention of everyone to be on her and as soon as someone threatened her from losing her spotlight, she made sure to put herself back in no matter what. Her mother did not act like a mother most of the time, so she looked up to her big sister for support, and she wants to be in her big sister's attention one hundred percent of the time. We also agreed that their dad is not very present in the book because the author wanted to make the dysfunctions within the family apparent. The family is not very close knit, and the fact that the dad is not very present in his family members lives proves that. Also, Emily, the mother in the family, does not act like a mother. I believe that she lost interest in her family, and even though she cares for her children and her husband, she does not care whether or not she is a good mother or wife anymore. The others in the group disagreed with me, because they believe that the mother is trying to be the best mother that she can be, but her constant migraines hold her back. Overall, we all enjoyed the book and we are all very happy with this book club’s book decision.