Atonement: A Handbook On Writing
As I mentioned in an earlier post about Atonement, this novel at times feels like a handbook on writing.
The central character, Briony, is a young girl who wants to be a writer. She uses her creativity and imagination to write plays and novellas. As the story moves forward, we find out that Briony has become a famous author. As a result, Ian McEwan is able to throw in some great zingers on writing.
Here’s several of my favorites:
“Falling in love could be achieved in a single word–a glance.”
“A story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her reader’s. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it.”
“Wasn’t writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?”
“There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive.”
“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”
“But how to do feelings? All very well to write “She felt sad”, or describe what a sad person might do, but what of sadness itself, how was that put across so it could be felt in all its lowering immediacy? Even harder was the threat, or the confusion of feeling contradictory things.”
“Nothing was to be lost by beginning at the beginning…”
“Briony began to understand the chasm that lay between an idea and its execution.”
I don’t know where I’ll put Atonement in my rankings when I’m finished with it, but I can promise that it’s certainly had an impact on me.
Though I don’t write fiction, I still can appreciate Briony’s struggles with confidence and technique and finding her voice. All writers struggle with that.
Besides the element of writing, Atonement is actually a good story. Perhaps a touch sappy, still. But just a touch. I’ll let you know more about that when I review the novel soon.
Any of these quotes jump out at you?