21 February 2009

Atonement: McEwan needs to take a breath

This week I am reading Atonement, the book by Ian McEwan that was the basis of the 2007 film starring Keira Knightley. An acquaintance of mine is working on the 1001 Books list and this is the book she is starting with, so I decided to read it with her. It is not going well. I'm less than 100 pages in and I've already gone into skimming mode.

My biggest problem is the length of the paragraphs. Right now I am looking at a paragraph that starts at the top of page 82 and ends on page 84! I'm reading the large-print edition and I know that affects the formatting, but that would be a seriously long paragraph even in regular print. Faced with a large unbroken blocks of type like that, my mind starts to wander and I lose interest in the story. If McEwan is imparting some profound wisdom in those passages, I am likely to miss them.

Another thing I've noticed is the shortage of dialogue or action. Perhaps that is the difference between literature and popular fiction. Since embarking on this reading adventure, I've noticed that the more literary novels have pages and pages of the characters' inner thoughts and feelings while genre novels (chick lit, mystery, sci-fi, etc) get down to business more quickly. When I was younger, I stuck my nose up in the air whenever I saw my friends reading what I considered trashy romance and throwaway fantasy novels. It is difficult for me to admit, but I think I prefer those sorts of books now.

With so many other things on my mind, I want a story that immediately grabs me and pulls me along. Atonement isn't doing that for me, but I am going to at least continue skimming through it to get the gist of the plot. Hopefully I will have better luck with my next book.


Stephanie said...

I agree with you. I get irritated when paragraphs go on for pages with no break whatsoever, and when there's very little dialogue. That totally lowers a book's readability, IMO.

Beth F said...

I've read only one McEwan book and it wasn't for me. I have had no desire to read more!

Dani in NC said...

I must admit that I am still feeling the sting of a comment in another forum that suggested that you are not a smart person if you can't make it through a difficult book. I know that life is too short to spend on boring books, but I think I am going to give McEwan about 20 more pages to try to draw me in.

Stephanie said...

Quote: I must admit that I am still feeling the sting of a comment in another forum that suggested that you are not a smart person if you can't make it through a difficult book.

Whoever told you that is an obvious idiot. :D I've got an ARC right now that I've heard comments on, "It's the new 'Gatsby'!" and thought, WTF? Because I love Gatsby and I'm totally not iwell-written, but it's NOT the kinnto this one. And you know what? Sometimes that's just it. Sometimes a book just isn't a good match for you. My ARC is d of book I normally enjoy, and my not enjoying it has nothing to do with my intelligence.

Don't let 'em get you down, seriously. Crap like that is spewn by morons with an overinflated sense of intelligence. The act of enjoying a certain kind of book, or even a single certain book, has nothing to do with intelligence. It's okay to dislike a book, even *gasp* a classic! It happens. Cyberslap that person for me. :)

Stephanie said...

I just realized that my comment that I left you is chock full o' errors. My apologies- when I was typing, my kitty (#5, the one who still has that nursing instinct, due to not enough time with his mother) walked across the keyboard and plopped himself down in front of my keyboard to suck on my fingers. When he does that, his butt bumps the little keyboard-mouse thing and I didn't notice how badly it had screwed the comment up! Apologies from Indy and me! :)

John said...

I don't really get McEwan really. If you're struggling at p100, you're going to have a hard time finishing any McEwan. From my experience, the first parts of his books are actually quite good. It's the end that lets him down. I didn't like Atonement really, nor Enduring Love which, despite having a fantastic opening sequence, finishes badly.

Anyway, have you got a copy of Arukiyomi's 1001 books spreadsheet?

Dani in NC said...

Yes, John, I do have a copy of the spreadsheet :-). I read the actual book a while back, but gave up on trying to read any of the titles it covered until I ran across the spreadsheet. I'm a sucker for organizational systems!