Lying is what Atonement is about. Don't get me wrong here. Ian Mc Ewan is capable of doing much more macabre than just Agatha Christie. His novel Atonement is as much about lies and morality as about guilt, penitence or, for that matter, art.
The story opens on an extremely hot day at the Gothic house of the Tallis family. We are introduced to 13 year old Briony an upcoming fiction writer who has written a romantic play for her three cousins who are visiting. The story for most revolves around her journey to truth which after all is what everybody is yearning for.
Briony is consumed with her creation of stories, she has grown up swimming in the notion of falsehood.
Right from the family house which is a status symbol for the aristocratic family but also paid for by the grandfather. The parents-- Emily and her husband who is busy in infidelity, but the marriage is a polite refusal to acknowledge.
Her life and fiction run parallel to one another. For example early in the story when she claims to witness her cousin Robbie having raped her 16 year old elder sister Cecilia, Briony tells a lie with utmost certainty creating a degree of climax in her own fictional work.
Mc Ewan makes a point here, about the lies that people tell themselves, in order to make life seem more attractive, most of the times this leads to very dangerous prepositions.
The second half in the backdrop of war deals with Brion's coming of age and becoming a nurse, Robbie's joining the British troops. The truth about reality both of them realize is the sprituality of life; humans are but material things, easily torn but not easily mended. The writer Briony sees what is torn in flesh cannot be mended through her stories. People are as real as we are and are equal in value. Or we can simply ignore our morals and pay for the consequences.
Ian McEwan creates a paradox through a comic, moving and a very unsettling novel. Or we can ignore that moral and pay the consequences. The role of author entices us with the chance for endless revision, but assuming that role precludes the possibility of atonement with an Author outside ourselves.
No wonder the movie Atonement (2007), based on the novel became a hit at the Oscars.