Resisting loss: Guilt and consolation in ian Mcewan's atonement


Ian McEwan's Atonement re-traces the development of twentieth-century fiction from modernist amorality to postmodern relativism, incorporating their shared acknowl-edgements of the subjectivity of narrative. However, the novel both draws upon and moves beyond these modes of subjectivity as part of an ethically committed exploration of memory and history. On the one hand, McEwan's writer-figure, Briony, fails to grapple ethically with historical memory, preferring consolation to the real historical record. McEwan's novel itself, in containing Briony's work within a measure of critical distance, does not offer consolation. Rather, it creates an experience in which readers must move beyond Briony's shortcomings and toward a more nuanced acceptance of history's traumas, of the damages of war, and sexual violence: a way to truly do justice to historical memory.

Publication Title

Journal of Modern Literature