In Nicholas Lezard's critique of McEwan's Atonement he states that, "
the novel is itself the act of atonement that Briony Tallis needs to perform; yet we are very much in the land of the unreliable narrator, where evasion and mendacity both shadow and undermine the story that is told." To atone is to seek forgiveness for one's sins. The novel is Briony's attempt to be forgiven for the crime she committed as a naïve girl of 13, during the summer of 1935 heat wave. The narrator delivers the story from different points of view; she bases the other characters thoughts and reactions upon her own knowledge of their persona. While retelling the story the narrator has the tendency to lie, or rather avoid the truth, to improve her novel. After Briony admits that her atonement was not entirely truthful, the reader may question the reliability of the narrator.
Briony's novel displays the story form different perspectives, and when she acts as an omniscient narrator from any other perspective than her own she is unreliable. Briony is simply telling the story from an alternative point of view with no evidence of the specific characters' own personal interpretations, but merely her own observations of their personality, the other characters only exist through her creations. "When I am dead, and the Marshalls are dead, and the novel is finally published, we will only exist through my inventions." (McEwan, p. 350) This is in the very end of the novel as Briony writes in 1999, on her 77th birthday. This is a clear portrayal that she believes it doesn't matter how reliable a narrator she is because all the characters will be nothing more than novelties, inventions, at the time of publication. Even when Briony is narrating from her own point of view, she states in the beginning of the novel, "She would be well aware of the extent of her self-mythologizing, and she gave her account a self-mocking, or mock-heroic tone." (McEwan, p. 38) Briony is talking in third person about the...
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