#newworldnovel is a feature in which we get people to tell us which book they’d choose if they had to leave earth today and go to a brand new world empty of all our literature. Would they choose something to comfort themselves or would they choose something to help whatever may live or come to live in this new world?
Atonement – Ian McEwan
I have tattoos, and, like with all tattoos, each is a story. Except in this case, I mean that in quite a literal sense. I don’t have passages of scripture running down my body, or odes to specific exalted writers; the story I chose to mark on my body is the story of fiction itself.
You won’t win any prizes for guessing that I’m an English Literature major. Reading and writing have always played a huge role in my life, but when I read Atonement for the first time I wasn’t quite prepared for the profound effect it would have on me. As someone who generally enjoys the provoking psychology of books like Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love and the acidhead scrawlings of Hunter S Thompson, I wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by Ian McEwan’s novel-come-Hollywood-movie. I suffered from disturbing flashes of Keira Knightly’s tormented face whenever I thought about reading it, and I thought it was probably just another tragic love story in the midst of war. I want to dispel that theory now, because the expectation of cliché shouldn’t keep anybody from reading this book.
I read how a young girl’s imagination run away with her, and her struggle as she became possessed by it. When that compulsive mind led her to blame an innocent man for the rape of her cousin, however, it was hard to feel sympathy for the ‘atonement’ that absorbed her for the rest of the book. Sure, I enjoyed the story in a general sense too. But what struck me wasn’t the horror of war, thrill of gross accusation, or casual dropping of the ‘C’ bomb; it was the endless possibility of the story.
It crept up on me. By the time I had finished the last few pages I was a wreck. I kept turning the book over in my hands, staring at it, and thinking about what it was. Now, if you haven’t read the book, I apologise if this seems like an existentialist meltdown. But a work of fiction is drastically underrated in our world, and probably the next, and Atonement does more than plunge into the fabric of the imaged. It picks it apart.
Part of me was heart-broken. Betrayed isn’t the right word, misled might be. The other part of me felt like I’d been bitten by a radioactive novel. Suddenly, life came down to one decisive moment, and I knew the productive, atoning, and consuming capacity of the imagination, and the control it allows us to exercise. Putting a pen to paper carries with it the power of a new world, or the ability to enforce order to a chaotic old one. The world to which I am taking Atonement is fully formed in each of us, but it still only lies in the corridors of our minds. It can be anything, anywhere between what we know and what we dream. The only catalyst we need is a story like this to truly explore the boundaries at which reality ends, and a vision begins.
My tattoos are small, subtle. They’re discreet enough that you might not see them, unless they were pointed out to you. That’s why there’s a little question mark on the back of my neck, just under my hairline, and an infinity sign on the inside of my arm. We feel the real, the scientific, the infinity, and dream with questions. The thing is, I realised that the boundary between the real and the imaged is meaningless, because actually we are always somewhere in the overlap between the two.
When we realise we’re part of the story, we both ride it, and we write it ourselves.
Lizee reads English Literature in the UK and America, but loves all things art, transatlantic or otherwise. She’s managed to navigate the world on her own, but would always prefer company. It is important to always speak up when you talk to her, because she’s probably listening to Burial.
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(Image sourced from: here)
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