How to achieve atonement
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.
—- Atonement, Ian McEwan
I have just finished rereading this substantial novel by Ian McEwan which was a course text in my third year at HKU. The course was moderated by Dr Smethurst who always looked into me with smiling eyes (and who had praised my red-framed glasses), and was titled “The Novel Today”. It was the only course by the English Department (now the School of English) that used contemporary materials. I was so shocked by the novel that I decided to imitate it in my final project for my Creative Writing course.
And now that several years have passed, I have myself written a book and numerous pieces, all very immature, bearing witness to the Briony Tallis within me, when I reread this novel that changed my notions of writing, I still cannot help being shocked. I am shocked to tears by the above quoted paragraph.
Now I know why I have not been able to write all these while. I do not even feel any impulse to write my travelogue in Taipei. I have not been forgiven. I have not been able to forgive myself. No forgiveness. No atonement. There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her.
Go to this film with me,
and my crimes shall be atoned.