Nicholas Lezard's Quote on Atonement

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Atonement

“…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” (Nicholas Lezard). Discuss this criticism of Atonement.

When one reaches atonement, it means that they feel forgiven, regardless whether they are actually absolved for an offence or not. In Atonement, a novel of drama, war and romance, the author Ian McEwan characterizes the main character, Briony, as a very self-centered person. McEwan’s novel is self-referential when it is implied that the novel is one Briony wrote in order to reach atonement. Nicholas Lezard, critic for the Guardian, says that Briony’s atonement and ‘the truth’ of her story is weakened by Ian McEwan’s characterization of her as an unreliable person.

However, some may argue that the novel Briony wrote was a good way to atone for her crime. In the end of the McEwan’s novel, Briony shows that she believes she had done the best she could have to reach atonement. When talking about the final draft of her novel she says “I’ve regarded it as my duty to disguise nothing – the names, the places, the exact circumstances – I put it all there as a matter of a historical record” (McEwan 349). This makes the reader believe she is being entirely honest. In addition to this, Briony, being a well-known published writer at the age of 77, decides to use her passion, her talent, to become part of her atonement. Although Briony can’t publish her novel until after the death of Lola and Paul Marshall because of her fear of litigation as well as the power and wealth the couple have and will use to protect their names. “The Marshalls have been active about the courts since the late forties, defending their good names with a most expensive ferocity” (McEwan 349). Her inability to do anything more at this stage of her life makes readers feel sympathy for Briony and want to believe...
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