WHAT WILL ATONMENT BRING?

Continuing on my blitzkrieg campaign to make up for the the fallow no-blog weeks of November, I look today at a literary rock star who is about to allow Hollywood to have a go at his work.

Ian McEwen has been hitherto untainted by the denizens of pop culture despite an international literary reputation. You don’t see his name on the shiny foil covers of airport paperbacks, and as far as I know Elton John has yet to compose a note or word in his honor. I’ve read not a great deal of his stuff. Atonement, Amsterdam, and Saturday is the entire list. They’re all worthy books, and I have no general quarrel with the plaudits he’s received. McEwen invests huge effort into researching a wide variety of professions for his books. Journalism and music for Amsterdam, neurosurgery for Saturday, and both medical and military historical techniques for Atonement, which is set in the first world war. Every professional character seems faultlessly at home in his/her professional skin to this outsider, and I’ve been assured by a surgeon friend that he indeed got it just right in Saturday, so I’m happy to assume the same for the other works. This would be a prodigious writing feat in itself, but accompanied as it is by the ability to delve into the psychology and emotion of the world she creates in rich, poetic language, McEwen is an all-around big-time author. For the ages? Certainly for our times. His greatest strength is to continuously monitor every emotional, physical, and spiritual nuance of his characters. He plays to the strength particularly well in Saturday, which takes place inside the head of one man on a particular–you guessed it–Saturday. To me, this strength is also an occasional weakness because McEwen wanders around in a character’s mind to the expense of a book’s action and through line. He then loses focus and dramatic tension.

I found this particularly true of Atonement, even though I think the book was ultimately more successful than either of the others, partly because of the work’s scope and depth and partly because it essays a fascinating psychological ambiguity which carried forth into the action. Thus, the reader can choose between or embrace at least two possible endings. Very juicy.

Which brings us finally to Hollywood. They’re making a movie of Atonement. Kiera Knightly stars. I have no complaints about Knightly. Pride and Prejudice proved she can act (I liked her in Pirates of the Caribbean also, even though Johnny Depp stole the show.) despite the fact that she’s too pretty for Elizabeth Bennett. She’s been almost as big a surprise as Reese Witherspoon to me, though nothing will ever equal the transformation from Legally Blonde to June Carter. But I digress. I think Atonement could make a fine film EXCEPT for that delicious ending. They’re going to screw it up. I know it, and I dread it. Hollywood won’t be able to stand it. But am I going to see it? Oh. Yeah. Kiera will be enough reason in herself. How about you?

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