Truth. Lies. Love. Sex. Ian McEwan’s Atonement weaves a complicated tale of a family torn apart by deception. It begins by explaining the events of a single day at a wealthy English home in the 1930s, where 13-year-old Briony sees two events that shape her life forever. First, she sees her older sister Cecilia making love with her childhood friend, Robbie. Later, Briony sees her cousin Lola being raped. Briony is convinced that the rapist is Robbie, and her testimony sends him to jail. But five years later, in the midst of the Second World War, Briony is trying to atone for her mistake — a mistake that has haunted her ever since.
Truth and Lies
Atonement is full of lies and deceptions, even if the characters are not always aware of what they are doing. Briony knows she has seen something important, but she misunderstands what really happened, and her false version of events has devastating consequences. By the end of the novel, the reader is still left doubting Briony’s grasp on the truth. Can we ever know what is true?
Expert casts doubt on ‘post-truth’ claims
Does democracy REALLY depend on truth? Many people claim democratic systems only work when everyone agrees on basic truths – but others think this is a recipe for dictatorship.
Liars beware: new truth test unveiled
Scientists claim to have developed the most accurate lie detector yet, by analysing body movements for signs of guilt. But do the ethical pitfalls of truth tests outweigh their benefits?
Facebook’s fake news: ‘post-truth’ is the word
‘Post-truth’ could be ‘one of the defining words of our time’, says Oxford Dictionaries. The announcement comes as Facebook continues defending itself from criticism over fake news stories.
Elie Wiesel: a great moral voice is silent
The author of Night, an eye-witness account of the Holocaust, has died. His work raises a hard question about how to approach truth: direct testimony or the power of imaginative fiction?
‘Truth decay’ ripping us apart warns Obama
Is truth REALLY decaying? Barack Obama argues that without a universal idea of truth, society cannot function. Others argue that truth is simply getting more complex – and more interesting!
Growing ‘assault on truth’ poses world threat
Can journalism ever claim to be the truth? Yesterday, on World Press Freedom Day, the BBC’s head issued a ringing defence of impartiality – but many believe that it is impossible to achieve.
Briony sees two different kinds of sex on that day in the country: an act of love between two adults, and the rape of her cousin. But she interprets them both as attacks. It is not clear whether this is because she is too young to understand the difference, if she is jealous of her sister or if there is another reason. In the end, it does not matter: her accusation condemns Robbie to jail anyway.
Yes means yes: the rise of affirmative consent
Is it the best policy? After a horrific sexual assault case shocked the nation, Spain became the latest country to write affirmative consent into law. But what does it mean?
Tsunami of anger over treatment of women
Are new laws the right way to tackle the problem? As testimonials of abuse flood social media and protesters take to the streets, everyone seems to agree things need to change. But how?
Sex abuse ‘silence breakers’ win Time award
Will the #MeToo movement lead to real change? Those who spoke out about their experiences of sexual misconduct have been named Time magazine’s “person of the year”. Their story is not over.
Report calls time on sexualisation of childhood
Parents voice concern at sexualised images surrounding their children. Publishers, retailers and broadcasters find themselves in the dock.
Nearly 50% are open to same-sex experiences
Is everyone a little bit gay? A new poll has found that four in 10 people are open to a same-sex experience. The number rises among young people. Is sexuality more fluid than we think?
Five years after Robbie’s arrest, he attempts a reconciliation with Cecilia. But then the Second World War separates them again. Briony and Cecilia both train as nurses, while Robbie is stuck in Dunkirk, wounded and awaiting evacuation from France. There is nothing glorious or romanticised about the war in Atonement; it is painful and dull, and it rips apart the lives of all it touches.
Virus brings a return of the Dunkirk spirit
Is it a good comparison? With tens of thousands of people volunteering to help with Britain’s vaccination programme, some see a parallel with the greatest rescue operation of World War Two.
War looms as Israel and Palestine trade blows
Is the terrible bloodshed in Jerusalem inevitable? Today, Israel and Palestine are teetering on the brink of another war, and each side blames the other for this new bout of violence.
New thriller predicts deadly US/China war
Is there a war coming between China and the US? Yesterday, Joe Biden made headlines by attacking Xi Jinping in his first speech to Congress. Top military veterans are imagining the worst.
There are no happy families in Atonement. The Tallis family never get over Robbie’s arrest; Cecilia cuts off contact with them, while Briony tries — and fails — to make up for her mistake. The novel also touches on class, as those born into wealthy families enjoy far more benefits from their privileged position in England in contrast with poorer families like Robbie’s.
Happy Monday! Hope, holidays and hugs return
But wait! Is it wrong to be happy? This morning there is much grim news. But, if you look beneath the surface, there are also many reasons why this is a wonderful time to be alive.
Battle of the brothers as royal rift opens
Are Harry and Meghan the future of British royalty? Some think they are a breath of fresh air in a stuffy institution – but others argue it was selfish to give up their royal duties.
The wayward son saved by a president’s love
Is Hunter Biden brave to publish his life story? The book, out yesterday, describes his battle against addiction and the role of his father Joe Biden in putting his life back on track.
Briony wants to atone for the mistake she made as a teenager. First, she tries to contact Cecilia and Robbie, in order to finally tell the truth. Then she trains as a nurse to try to help wounded soldiers and do some good. Many years later, she writes the novel in order to finally put its events to rest. Does she ever succeed? And can the good things we do ever outweigh the bad?
Beyonce: Love is an endless act of forgiveness
Should we forgive cheating? Last week Beyoncé and Jay-Z released their joint album. In it, Beyoncé appears to forgive her husband for his earlier infidelity. Should others follow her lead?
Robinson tweets spark ‘cancel culture’ row
Should a person’s racist past be forgiven? Yesterday, as a second cricketer was linked with offensive posts, many called for punishment. But some say we should accept that people can change.
Twenty years on, Sarajevo still scarred by siege
In the 1990s, Sarajevo was home to the longest siege of modern times, and one of the bloodiest. It began twenty years ago this week – and though it is over, many still suffer from its effects.