Friday, January 12, 2007

Atonement and White Noise


I was in West Virginia this past weekend (it's an actual state, not western Virginia...you'd be surprised how many times I have to make this distinction). I went down with some friends for a quiet weekend in the woods. It turned out to be a very quiet weekend indeed, since rain and mud made most of the hiking and walking about that I had planned unappealing. However it was a great weekend for reading and pillaging my old bookshelves for books that I didn't even remember purchasing.

I also finished Atonement by Ian McEwan, a book that I now wish we had picked to read for our book group instead of White Noise. In every way, Atonement is the more appealing novel. It is easier to read and at the same time more substantive.

I guess, the disclaimer here is that I found White Noise to be stylistically interesting but ultimately unsatisfying as a novel. To me, White Noise would've been more effective as a short story or novella. I felt that the central ideas and themes were too thin to justify the entire book. Certainly, the first half of the novel gave ample space to Delillo's exploration of 'rampant consumerism', 'media saturation' and other central themes. By the time we reach the end, the novelty and repetitiveness of his technique has long worn off, leaving the reader somewhat bored, apathetic, if not a little at a loss for words.

Atonement on the other hand, is a well-crafted if complex novel set before, during, and after Word War II. The story centers around 13-year-old Briony Tallis and the crime that she commits unwittingly one summer day on her parents' estate. The crime and it's repercussions haunt Briony through World War II, and into the final years of the 20th century. Atonement is a heartbreaking novel that examines themes of class, war, regret and guilt. (I spent the last half of the book intermittently weeping and trying to convince David that I was fine.)

While Atonement is a tragic book, it is not oppressively so. The plot is excellent, and while I have my own opinions about the alleged plagiarism of Lucilla Andrews' autobiography No Time for Romance in the latter half of the book---no one should be able to lift passages from someone's else's book almost verbatim without giving proper credit to the original--- it does not make me think any less of the merit of Atonement.

With or without those plagiarized passages, Atonement is a fantastic novel, one that I would highly recommend to anyone.

1 comment:

Ollie Hicks said...

But you do think plagiarism was involved? I'm interested partly because I've read neither book but lots about the 'scandal'. I have read some of McEwan's early short stories and found them really unpleasantly repellent on a moral level, making it hard to understand the a**-kissing he is accorded by other artistes.