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is Atonement sexist?

(105 Posts)
paintandbrush Mon 09-May-16 19:16:45


I realise that it features a lot of female characters making poor choices, but the men aren't great either. There have been quite a few accusations of misogyny against McEwan for this one. Will anybody explain the logic behind it all?

MyCrispBag Mon 09-May-16 22:58:00

It's wasn't interesting enough to be sexist.

shinynewusername Mon 09-May-16 23:11:26

No good asking me - I can't get through any of his books. I don't believe in the characters, especially the women.

MyCrispBag Mon 09-May-16 23:25:31


You are cleverer than I. I stuck with it after being told that the amazing ending makes sense of it all.

The ending made me want to hunt down Ian McEwan and chop off his hands for creating such a waste of my fucking time.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 10-May-16 00:05:11

I don't think sexist is an appropriate criticism. 1 female character
and 1 male character behave appallingly and keep up a terrible lie. A second female character colluded with them.

It's terribly manipulative. Cecilia and Robbie are attractive characters in every sense of the word. The second part about the retreat to Dunkirk is very moving and in parts funny.

I found the twist shocking and burst into tears. I also sobbed at the film. But with hindsight it just leaves me now very cross at being manipulated. It's very clever (superficially) but ultimately an unsatisfying book.

UmbongoUnchained Tue 10-May-16 00:09:31

I've not read the book but loves the film. It's set in the 30/40s though so blind to be a little sexist.
Was also the first time I'd seen the word cunt written down, which for some reason stuck with me!

SocialDisaster Tue 10-May-16 00:12:25

I only Watched the film and have disliked BC ever since. It is of its time.

shinynewusername Tue 10-May-16 00:15:02

MrCrispBag I had exactly that reaction to the ending of Captain Corelli's Mandolin - still angry to this day.

Just5minswithDacre Tue 10-May-16 00:15:04

No, I didn't detect authorial sexism. I haven't seen the film but the book was powerful.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 10-May-16 00:24:39

This seems a fair review. The writer identifies examples of sexism in it although I still think it's the clever-clever trick which I find most indefensible.

Frustratingly Overwrought: Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’

WriteforFun1 Tue 10-May-16 00:28:12

I thought there we an undertone of sexism in the way the female characters were written but it was a library copy so I don't have it handy.

I love how a pp described what a waste of time it was, I felt that way too. Also think the subject matter is just more shite that is based on very old views of "what to do with female characters" I.e. Rape and or pregnancy. Gah.

Just5minswithDacre Tue 10-May-16 00:37:16

You could argue it has a similar theme or premise to "On Chesil Beach" in that several of the characters are effectively captive to their class and gender roles, particularly what is known about sex, what sec is permissible.

That's particularly the case because they both have historical settings but it's a recurring theme even in his contemporary novels (characters being hostages to events and their allotted roles, that is, not always issues around sex.)

It's interesting when you consider what he discovered quite late on about his parents, sibling etc. One wonders how much subconscious awareness of that situation he had.

paintandbrush Tue 10-May-16 08:20:21

I found the ending rather depressing, having seen the film first. It's like he was trying to knit a scarf, but didn't know how to cast off at the end.

It's all a little too smug, like 'Ha! Didn't think I was going to do that, did you?' Mostly well-written though, I did like it. Never considered the stuff about the author's parents before.

WriteforFun1 Tue 10-May-16 10:22:44

I can't remember the very end, just remember thinking it wasn't good
I don't know anything about his family
I think I've read something else of his and didn't like it but can't recall the name.

thecatfromjapan Tue 10-May-16 10:34:39

I thought it was sexist. It would have negotiated the charge of sexism more thoughtfully if the fictional author had been male. As it was, for me, it reproduced the sexist tropes surrounding the de-valuing/repudiation of 'sentimental' and 'romantic' fiction. Further, for me, it employed a sexist trope of projecting the denigrated aspects of fiction onto a female imaginary character - thus reproducing the feminisation of denigrated aspects of fiction/writing.

I do realise that the book is supposed to be a rehearsal of the consolations and limits of fiction, and that the reader is supposed to ultimately reflect upon the fact that the work is written by a man. However, I felt that the only way to read it, given this is that the (male) author was rehearsing a male projection of hated/uncomfortable/unbearable characteristics onto 'the' female/feminine.

Frankly, I didn't need that. That's not new. That's real life. And I didn't trust Ian McKewan enough as an author to believe that he had real control over that 'deeper' reading (that, finally, the 'joke' is that it is representing a manouevre/fantasy of the male pysche/political structure). Ultimately, it felt to me as though it was unconscious sexism and unconscious disavowal - thus a reproduction of sexism rather than its protrayal and unveiling.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Tue 10-May-16 11:13:05

I think the problem in Atonement in terms of gender politics - and, disclaimer, I do like the book! - is that the young girl who is sexually assaulted is carefully characterized first as precocious, knowing, and flirtatious. It would be an entirely different novel if Bryony had been attacked rather than Lola (whose name evokes echoes of Lolita!). McEwan is interested in showing how this false accusation dogs the main male character, and its repercussions are tragic for him - but the young girl who has been assaulted really doesn't matter much, and indeed ends up marrying the man who really did assault her.

It's not that McEwan is replicating 1940s attitudes in the way characters speak and behave - it's that he's doing something really quite problematic with his plot, IMO.

thecatfromjapan Tue 10-May-16 11:29:32

Yes. Somehow, women seem to 'carry the blame' - wthin the novel and at the level of structure - and I do wonder how much of that was unconscious reproduction on the author's part (ie. sexism).

scallopsrgreat Tue 10-May-16 11:34:39

The whole false accusation thing was so sexist and unoriginal (To Kill a Mockingbird anyone?). It is just following the stereotypes that women lie about rape. And it doesn't really look at the underlying issues of why that came about and how society puts women in this position where classism and misogyny collide (if I remember correctly - its been a while since I read it). It was all done from a male perspective.

scallopsrgreat Tue 10-May-16 11:35:42

Cross post there. "women seem to 'carry the blame'" Yes absolutely.

PalmerViolet Tue 10-May-16 12:35:00

Not so much sexist, although the "false accusation" thing was, just dull, pedestrian and predictable.

paintandbrush Tue 10-May-16 16:40:59

I thought Lola was presented as trying to act older than her age (eg. the lie that she had been at Hamlet rather than the panto). She's also supposed to be an attention seeker like her mother before her.

However, it was made very clear that she was really a vulnerable child with no real parental figures- hence her not having the guts or inclination to denounce Paul the child abuser.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Tue 10-May-16 17:29:35

Yes, paint - and I think it's a questionable authorial decision to have the girl who gets assaulted so carefully characterized in this way.

almondpudding Tue 10-May-16 21:13:23

What's sexist about it is not the characterisation. Part of the plot of the novel is surely that the characters are just Briony's impressions of what people are like, not what the characters are really like.

What's sexist about it is that it he whole book is written in this kind of cloying, repulsive, overly symbolic, intense writing style that is totally different to McEwan's writing style, because Briony is supposed to be the writer and that is what he imagines goes on in the heads of young women.

I like many of his other novels.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Tue 10-May-16 21:34:17

It's the only one of his novels I've liked. I went off it because I ended up thinking it was a cheat.

exWifebeginsat40 Tue 10-May-16 21:42:50

I hated Atonement. it was dull and overstretched but...flabby at the same time. I gave him another chance, but On Chesil Beach was worse.

so, yeah. he writes insipid characters and puts them in tedious situations. I'm not sure the female characters in Atonement were any more thinly-sketched than the males, but overall it was unimpressive.

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