London 1999, the last part of the novel Atonement written by Ian McEwan, has set a controversy. There have been different ideas over whether the finishing touch should have been added or not. The addition of the part has a great influence on the whole novel. First, I will analyze a couple of effects London 1999 can bring. Second, I will discuss the definition of the concept, ‘atonement’, based on Briony’s writing. Last, some similarities and contrasts between Ian McEwan’s writing technique and other writers’ ones considering the existence of London 1999as well as Briony’s early writings.
London 1999 alters the novel into Briony’s creation from Ian McEwan’s work. Literally speaking, the novel Atonement is clearly written by Ian McEwan, and Briony is one of the fictional characters McEwan has created. However, readers confront old Briony confessing ‘the facts’ while they read through London 1999, which totally changes the ending of Part Three. What consequences occur when McEwan assures readers that the previous parts before London 1999 was Briony’s composition?
Readers get to know Briony’s assumption about Robbie and Cecilia’s sentiments. Briony’s speculation disguises itself as a vivid description of other characters’ emotion. The operation of Briony’s attempt can be seen as schizophrenia if she did not put them into her composition. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Briony examines her whole life, Cecilia’s life, Robbie’s life including Emily’s, Marshall’s, Lola’s, Hardman’s, Jack’s, the publisher’s and all the other characters’ lives appearing in the novel. Her composition can be read as a report written after examining and experimenting people’s emotion with her imagination. Briony puts herself into many other lives’ shoes again and again through her life. In this way, she assumes herself as all of them. It is very complicating if I assume that what I am reading is Briony’s guess at someone else’s life which might reflect Briony’s misinterpretation. I am pointing out here that there can be a possibility of misinterpretation of thirteen-year-old Briony’s primary misinterpretation. There arise layers of misinterpretation. Therefore, I decide to interpret the parts before London 1999 as a portrait of Briony’s wish. In other words, the novel has a meaning of a desired understanding of Briony, which reflects her own interpretation.
Here are some quotes as examples of my assumption. “Yes, and by the way, she also said she’s had a piece of writing turned down by Cyril Connolly at Horizon. So at least someone can see though her wretched fantasies” (272). These are Briony’s imagination of Cecilia’s mind. Briony thinks that Cecilia would regard Briony’s work as ‘wretched fantasies’ disgracing her own composition. “However, we wondered whether it owed a little too much to the techniques of Mrs. Woolf” (402). This time, Briony displays Virginia Woolf’s influence on her work by borrowing the publisher’s voice. It is really interesting and simultaneously sympathetic imagining an old lady orally narrating her own fairy tale as she changes her voices seriously. “So, for example, the child at the window whose account we read first – her fundamental lack of grasp of the situation is nicely caught. So too is the resolve in her that follows, and the sense of initiation into grown-up mysteries. We catch this young girl at the dawn of her selfhood” (402). These sentences are remarkable, because ‘Briony’ tries to analyze ‘Briony’ from someone who has never met ‘Briony’ in person. Maybe she could write these sentences late in her age after long years of observation of herself. It is amazing that the thirteen-year-old girl wrote about her action with a distance after some time. “If this girl has so fully misunderstood or been so wholly baffled by the strange little scene that has unfolded before her, how might it affect the lives of the two adults?” (403) Briony constantly doubts herself. She, herself, cannot have certainty about ‘why she did the crime’ at that time. She was so certain about everything then, but she cannot justify her deed many years later. Only ‘Dusty Answer’ has remained now.
But Briony did not only present what she agrees. “We do not believe that artists have an obligation to strike up attitudes to the war. Indeed, they are wise and right to ignore it and devote themselves to other subjects. …, Warfare, as we remarked, is the enemy of creative activity” (405). Briony is against this idea of the publisher. She fully described the terrible sights of World War Two throughout the novel with Robbie’s narration. It is the evidence of Briony’s disagreement with the publisher’s idea. London 1999 enables the two different opinions on warfare exist in one book.
Briony makes ‘imaginary Briony’ visit Cecilia’s house and beg Cecilia and Robbie’s forgiveness. But her conscience prevents Briony to imagine Cecilia and Robbie forgiving herself. “The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all” (479). Briony’s imagination has self-regulating force in this quotation. She is free to conclude the novel whatever she wants as an author, however, how does she end the novel? All she finds out throughout the procedure of writing her novel is ‘the attempt’, not ‘the atonement’. She defines her writing as just an attempt which equals to the failure of being forgiven.
There is a fatal weakness. “The answer is simple: the lovers survive and flourish. As long as there is a single copy, a solitary typescript of my final draft, then my spontaneous, fortuitous sister and her medical prince survive to love” (479). Writing Atonement might be a formidable task for Briony, I admit. But her desperate approach to have empathy with Cecilia and Robbie disappears as she ‘simplifies the answer’. It is like a gluing the poster she tore fifty nine years ago. The ending of Briony’s novel is surprisingly locked. It is an act of giving up her will to be atoned, because she concludes her novel that way even though she knows the destructive power in the combination of imagination and absolutism very well. Her conclusion deprives readers of an opportunity to criticize Briony. Readers do not have to forgive Briony, because Cecilia and Robbie lives happily ever after in Briony’s novel. It is another form of delusion hiding behind the self satisfaction from her imagination, ‘I made them not forgive me forever’.
If there were no London 1999at the end, Ian McEwan’s work might have become a varied version of Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austin. All of my arguments above do not have logicality without London 1999. The addition suggests several advanced assumption and criticism which are worth discussing. I do not think that Ian McEwan incurs a whipping by adding the part. The existence of the part is essential. London 1999 stimulates of readers to be in agony thinking up what Briony should have done to reach ‘atonement’. That is a different dimensional pleasure previous work published before Ian McEwan’s Atonement did not have.