Book Club at the movies: “Atonement”

Drama, 2007

My book club has watched the film versions of our book selections before. In fact, there was a period where it seemed like we were only selecting books that had been made into movies. However, I think this may be the first time that we’ve had a book going at the same time that the movie version was still in theaters, and since a couple of our members are finding the reading to be rather slow going, they discussed a Saturday-night theater outing. I’ve actually read the book before and have planned to re-read it as soon as I finish my current read, but our meeting is closing in now, so I thought the movie could serve as a quick refresher.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of Atonement, in either book or movie form, I’ll be careful to avoid spoiling it. However, it essentially concerns a house party at an English country house in the summer of 1935; a child’s interpretation of some incidents she observes that day; the destruction created by her telling of those observations; and a return to the characters several years later, after the Second World War has begun and the girl has begun to grasp the effects of what she did. The story switches viewpoints and moves back and forth in time, which can make it a bit confusing, but the threads do all come together.

Some comments from my March 2003 “journal entry” about the book on BookCrossing (it was that long ago?!?):

This is definitely not a quick read. The writing style is very straightforward, so that in itself is not hard to get through, but much the action is internal and the story is definitely more character- than plot-driven. I felt the central characters were well-developed and that I could understand, if not necessarily empathize with, them.

The central themes revolve around the idea that there are consequences to our actions, including the actions we take through our misunderstanding or misinterpretation of other people’s actions (think about the times you’ve jumped to a conclusion and acted on that, and learned something later that made you realize your reaction was a mistake based on a mistake). There’s also the idea that no matter how much we try to make up for those wrong actions, we may never be granted forgiveness or make reconciliation.

I found the book to be very engaging in some parts, emotionally true, and ultimately both sad and affirming. I think I won’t forget it quickly. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to read it, but I’m left feeling more respect and admiration than real affection for it.

Obviously the writing-style comment doesn’t apply to the movie, but I think there was a good transition to cinematic vocabulary. The movie uses visual imagery well, and there’s aren’t a lot of long speeches. While the internal lives of characters never really translate well to film, it works here, and the storytelling is more spare and straightforward, although certain elements are played up more – the romantic ones, as might be expected. The second and third sections of the book are more blended in the movie, and I thought that worked too.

As it turned out, I remembered more of some parts of the story than I had thought, and I’d forgotten others, but they came back to me quickly. I think there’s a good likelihood that I’ll still read the book again, but I have to be honest in saying that I think the movie jogged my memory well enough that I’m not sure I’ll knock myself out to do it before my Book Club meeting on March 7th.

Oh, and a message to Keira Knightley: Please, sweetie, eat something!

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  1. The translation from book to movie worked very well here, although I seriously had my doubts when I first heard that it was happening.

    I echo your sentiments to Ms. Knightley!

  2. Literary Feline – Those scenes where she’s wearing that green evening gown? Girlfriend’s a walking stick figure. She’s good in the part, but it was a little distracting.

  3. Atonement (movie version) was pretty good; it looked and felt a lot like Pride and Prejudice… come to think of it, both movies have the same director, leading lady, both are based on books and both take place in England

  4. Patrick – I actually didn’t see that version of Pride and Prejudice, so I’ll take your word for the similarities. Thanks for stopping by!