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18 July 2008 @ 10:34 pm
i don't see what anyone sees in anyone else  
Atonement, Ian McEwan

Apparently Stephanie Meyer never describes something in one page when she could do it in four.

She stole this tip off Ian McEwan.

Four pages to describe a migraine!

Let's not even go near the plot yet. I don't think I can adequately convey my HATE for it, so I'll start with the easier option: the writing.

Lumpen. Rudimentary. Generic. Pedestrian.

He uses the adjective 'soupy' at least four times. IT'S A NOTABLE ADJECTIVE, IAN. PEOPLE WILL NOTICE THAT YOU USE IT A LOT. Once looks like originality. Four looks like you're hungry.

A cigarette holder, a lapdog tucked under one arm and she could have been Cruella de Vil.

HAHAHA WHAT. I'm supposed to believe THIS is good writing? Referencing Disney? Especially given that a) everyone knows what Cruella looks like, thus losing any potential brownie points for picking a less lol-obvious villain and b) that description is a mugshot. Write something INTERESTING. Like: 'the resemblance to Cruella was acute; all Lola was missing was the skins of a hundred dead puppies.' Or something. God.

The war scenes were dreadful. Just dreadful. The bits in the house were even worse. There was no reason for this crime against prose. It just dragged on and on and on, and also! He contradicts himself! Robbie drops his greatcoat at one point and doesn't pick it up, but later sleeps in it. Emily mentions going out to find Briony in the depths of that horrendously indulgent migraine passage. She never does.

The whole conversation before teh sexytiems - where they say one line of dialogue and then there's three paragraphs of internal monologue of the most insanely boring 'did he mean that? but what if he meant this? I think he meant something else' quality - failed SO HARD.

He loves to tell, not to show anything, but because he thinks his readers are fucking stupid and need everything explained to the nth degree:
When at last Lola spoke her tone was reflective, as though she were pondering subtle currents of counter-arguments.
but the question, which she had quite forgotten, from the Book of Common Prayer

If only she could reproduce the clear light of a summer's morning, the sensations of a child standing at a window, the curve and dip of a swallow's flight over a pool of water. Fucking no. Experiments are supposed to prove something. Experiments for the sake of experiments are facile - such as abstract writing. Hey, maybe this whole book was an exercise in automatic writing! It would explain SO MUCH.

"Don't worry," she said soothingly, and in the second or two during which she drew deeply on her cigarette, Briony flinched as her hopes lifted unreally. "Don't worry," her sister resumed, "I won't ever forgive you.".
Worst. Structure. EVER.
I mean, LOOK at it. The balance is off, the lines are convoluted and the multiple 'shes' create epic mind confusion. Not to mention I've seen that shit done hundreds of times before and better. How can you fuck up a riffed line, seriously? Does he not even think about how it reads, aurally, like a movie scene?

All the writers I've read so far this summer could have done with some serious time in fandom. McEwan is not an exception.


The plot.

Contrived, let me SHOW YOU IT.

I mean, clearly he woke up from a nap, as you do, thinking: childhood friends, sexual spark, dirty notes, interception, lovers, mistaken identity, tragedy, BOOM! Oscar nomination. He wrote them all down, also as you do, because otherwise they just evaporate. And then he forgot to edit. Ever.

We are never shown Robbie and Cecilia being friends. We are never shown the merest hint of a spark between them, aside from that ludicrous vase thing which was obviously some DEEP and MEANINGFUL metaphor designed to conceal the fact that McEwan can't do UST for shit. The idea of anyone being happy to get a note like that - that it would make them realise their repressed love - that you could establish a meaningful love bond that survives prison and war and causes estrangement from your family after a five minute fuck in which NOBODY CAME - is absosfuckinglutely RIDICULOUS. Even with that said, he also made no attempt to sell it. Again, covering his tracks with reams of delirious prose. Someone give the man a cookie.

He can't write sex. It's not actually bad, it just - he can't do it. People who can't write sex, shouldn't. If you can't write crime thrillers, don't add a crime plot to your story. Simple. They invented fade to black for a reason.

I got the impression that Briony's stint as a nurse was supposed to make us feel sorry for her. (After what a shithead she was earlier? HA.
Naturally, she had never heard the word spoken, or seen it in print, or come across it in asterisks. Yet naturally, she knew what it meant! Really is a fucking genius. I had to look it up in the dictionary the first time. Then again, I'm not a genius.)
It only made me sorry that hospitals aren't run like that any more. Good times.

Cecilia was so badly written, ohmygod.

All this was clear and not worth struggling against - she would not be abandoning herself to a lucious summer's night, there would be no long session with Leon, she would not be walking barefoot across the lawns under the midnight stars. - get fucking dressed quicker, dude

Even as she said the words she imagined herself being dragged back, incapable of packing her bag or of making the train. totally useless individual, HI

Why did they both become nurses? In fact, why was there a Cambridge storyline at all?

This is how it should have gone:

It starts with Cee and Robbie as kids, playing together, best mates. He's the handyman's son and she's the daughter of the house. He is NOT sponsored by Cee's dad - what, it was so irrelevant. He stays on working in the village, getting buff. Cee goes to finishing school, not Cambridge, as really that seems to fit the fifties more. (Only of course we must have the war!) Anyway, she comes back and Robbie's hot but she's snobbier. One day it's really hot and the plumbing breaks down. She's all hot and sweaty and gross, and Emily wants her to fill vases for some reception because the maid has the plague. She goes to the fountain to do it. Robbie's around being manly, he offers to fill it, the scene breaks down like McEwan wrote it, only not so fucking subtle there's actually no chemistry at all. Briony sees them struggling and thinks Cee's being taken advantage of. She also sees teh sexytiems. AFTER this, Robbie writes his gross note and Cee replies because she's obviously a perve too, this goes on for a while until Briony finds one, maybe involving Robbie tying Cee up (she's kinky like that). Horrified, she goes to her parents who have him either charged - and blackmail Cee to keep her quiet - or sent away. He still fights in the war, Cee still cuts herself off from her family, and Briony still has a lot to atone for before she goes to fucking BED.

I like my version so much better.

Also, Hermione was the most interesting person in that dull dull dull family, why did we never get to meet HER?

I've just started To The Lighthouse and I can already tell McEwan is no Virginia Woolf. The point is, who'd want to be?

On the back:
'a magnificent novel ... beautiful majestic panorama ... a superb achievement ... utterly satisfying ... smoulders with slow-burning menace'

Who are these people and what book were they reading?
Current Mood: crushedbitter
Current Music: the jeep song (the dresden dolls)
Ria: butterflieskessie on July 18th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
I hate McEwan. Hate, hate, HATE. I tried to read Atonement and gave up. Watched the film, which I liked more except for KK. My manager adores McEwan, so we just don't talk about it. She got... a little upset when I pointed out that McEwan kept going off in fucking tangents instead of getting on with the story already. UGH.

Am reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates right now, and am really enjoying it. Haven't finished it yet, though, so that could change.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: treesscoradh on July 18th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
While I'm delighted to hear I'm not alone in my despisingness, I really want to hear from people who've read this or any other book I've bashed recently and who can tell me WHAT AM I FUCKING MISSING.

What's your manager's defence? That his writing is just so pritty? (It so isn't.)

If I don't mind KK, will I like the film, do you think?
(no subject) - kessie on July 19th, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 19th, 2008 02:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Rose Wood: movie dreamers [trio] judgingrozillla on July 18th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
I thought the movie was pretty pointless, too, I mean half way through the movie it turns into "how it should have been" and then we find out it's just a bunch of bullshit... so the point to telling us this was...?

I didn't feel sorry for Briony in the slightest, she knew what happened and still lied. The only time the word cunt should have been in this movie was to describe her character.

I also hate when they make the character look like their younger self. I find it hard to believe Briony kept the same hair style her entire effing life.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: sunflowerscoradh on July 18th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Someone did mention how there was some kind of deus ex machina ending. I was looking forward to it! Maybe she woke up and it was all a dream! But no, they just died. I didn't even care. He didn't make me care. FAIL FAIL FAIL. F- times a hundred.

In the book she wasn't quite sure, but - and this is something I forgot to mention - it would have been so easy to give her a motive. If she really did love Robbie - or if she looked up to Cee who constantly brushed her off or similar - but no. Clearly that's just too hard for ol' Ian!

Pity Nurse thingy didn't make her shave her head.
o hulloah!: film; you heard the man!bogged on July 18th, 2008 10:01 pm (UTC)
AAAUUUUGGH. I've always had an instinctual feeling about McEwan, that I knew I would never like his writing, which is why I've never read one of his books or seen his movies. And thank goodness you are around the solidify that instinct. It makes me sad to see people like this being buttfucking famous, when so many fandomers write a BILLION times better and will probably never be recognized for their talents.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway, but I won't pretend it wasn't a love/hate relationship at parts. She's too, well, herself for her own good.

(Also! Not sure if you noticed, but this is toppled. I changed journals, quite obviously. Just thought I would let you know so that you aren't wondering what a random stranger is doing blabbing about literature in your journal. Not like that'd really be a problem... impromptu critique circles, anyone?)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Attention bunnyscoradh on July 18th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
It's not really writing, in the sense that there's no craft to it. If he were writing crime thrillers (idk, I have irrational hate for crime thrillers, thanks Dan Brown) it'd be one thing. This is supposed to be literature; he's supposed to bring something new to the table. All 'critically appraised' writing has going for it is the sense that it's better than everyone else's, and this ... so wasn't.

I have a huge pile of books right in front of me, so I don't think I'll be getting to Mrs Dalloway any time soon. In the meantime, I'm back to reading the newspaper to avoid To The Lighthouse. Shades of Kim...

oh, i saw the note on your journal! and as you say, anyone who backs me up is a-okay. although, i still want to know why this is so Great.
(no subject) - bogged on July 18th, 2008 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 18th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bogged on July 19th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - parthenia14 on July 21st, 2008 08:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 21st, 2008 09:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
uminohikariuminohikari on July 18th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
Dot. Dot. Dot.

...is unreally a /word/?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: monkeyscoradh on July 18th, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
According to spellcheck, no. But doncha know it's more LITERARY not to use 'unrealistically'?
jehnt: ocean's 11 - linus & dannyjehnt on July 18th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)

And then he forgot to edit. Ever.

I feel like this is a problem plaguing most bestsellers. One time I tried to read, uh, The Dante... Dante Club? Dante something, at any rate, for my short-lived HS book club, and it was SO PAINFUL.

Don't even get me started on that Da Vinci Code guy. I've never made it past five pages in any of his books.

Goddddddddd, fanfiction has ruined me for published authors. Whenever I read books now I'm like, "jesus, they need a fucking beta!" I mean, look, maybe this is snobby of me, but WRITING WHICH I PAY FOR SHOULD NOT HAVE TYPOS. Nor should it have a character who on one page is described as blonde and five pages later, IN THE SAME SCENE, is described as red-headed (the description which carries on through the rest of the book). Somebody at some point SHOULD HAVE PICKED UP ON THAT. If people who are doing this IN THEIR SPARE TIME can get this shit right, why can the publishing industry not? I AM NOT AT ALL IMPRESSED. ugh. I've been sticking to authors I know don't totally suck recently. And things pterry and Gaiman rec, because I figure they have pretty good taste. But I haven't really been branching out and it's SAD. But at the same time, whenever I do branch out I start to want to KILL THINGS.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: socksscoradh on July 18th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)

I read all of the Da Vinci code, because if you're busy but bored you fly through it. He ripped off The Turin Shroud like I couldn't believe. Well done, Dan Brown, for not having a single original thought.

But at the same time, whenever I do branch out I start to want to KILL THINGS.

Same here! Okay, so I'm not a student of literature. My reading background is sketchy and ill-informed. But I refuse to think that even someone with a Ph.D in wartime romance or wtfever could find anything remotely resembling merit in this sprawling behemoth of a waste of trees.

why can the publishing industry not

Tres simple. It's the same reason that most of the food we eat is controlled by three big chains. All the smaller publishing houses are folding one by one, being sucked up into the big boys. When they amalgamate, they cut jobs. Guess which one is the first to go? Yup. Editors. They double the workload but halve the staff. WELL DONE INDEED.

Edited at 2008-07-18 11:50 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jehnt on July 19th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Racey Laceyklasie on July 19th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
I couldn't get through the book, either. It took me six months to finish it. The movie was BEAUTIFUL, though.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Comic: dedscoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
I think it took me about a week, but I was pretty determined and, also, bored. Plus, the thought of writing out rants at the end is actually quite a motivating one.

Is it good? I might bother my ass watching it, then.
(no subject) - klasie on July 19th, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
daybreaqdaybreaq on July 19th, 2008 12:39 am (UTC)
If you want to read a "modern classic" that's actually enjoyable, try E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime."
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Twins playing keyboardscoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the rec! I still have about twenty-five books to read, but next century I'll look into it. :D
a work in progress: patd: brendon and ryan pout at youwintersjuly on July 19th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
Apparently Stephanie Meyer never describes something in one page when she could do it in four.

She stole this tip off Ian McEwan.

Alkjlkskljsfkljsfklj am suffering abject pain at the thought of reading either. not that i was going to read meyer anyway (sparkly vampires wtf) but jesus, EDITORS PEOPLE, EDITORS ARE AWESOME, AWESOME PEOPLE. USE THEM :<<
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: skyscoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
Quite frankly editors couldn't have saved either book, because there was nothing much worth saving.

Unless you LIKE rape and/or sparkly vampires. In which case there's no hope for you anyway.
JRevalangui on July 19th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
God, I love you. I'm so tired of reading "classics" and hating them and you telling me how much and exactly why they suck without complexes... it's liberating to say the least. I'm even tempted to read some classics just to hate them and be able to write a review like this :D
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: In ur bedscoradh on July 19th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
without complexes

If you mean inferiority complexes? Then no. I can understand appreciating a book less because you don't have a literary background. BUT. I am not a randomer off the street, who only reads tabloids or the back of cereal boxes. I read all the time - every day - and if a book, even one that's outside of my comfort zone, fails THIS BAD, I refuse to believe that it's all me.

The only thing that keeps me reading these horrible books is the ranting I can do at the end. It's therapeutic and at least I can still say 'Well, I've read it. (I hated it. But I read it!)'
(no subject) - evalangui on July 21st, 2008 04:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
trichinopoly ash: confession: intellectaldehyde on July 21st, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC)
i hate stephanie meyer 'cos she's a fucking retard.

but mcewan? i kinda love him. well, i haven't read atonement but i thought amsterdam and the innocent were fucking brilliant. because they start off normal and then something completely macabre happens, and i couldn't stop reading.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: monkeyscoradh on July 21st, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)

Ha, well, twenty or whatever-so books can't all be that heinous. He'd never make any money. Unfortunately, Atonement starts out shit and gets shittier. I kept reading out of hope that it wouldn't - but it did.
sarcasm is a way of life: house-coffeecelebriangel on July 23rd, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Ohgod. That sounds awful.

I have a confession. I...really liked the movie. It seems, though, that the bits I liked (the Cee-Robert UST, young Briony being creepy and having an obvious but twisted crush on Robert, whoever-that-girl-was ending up *marrying* the guy who tried to rape her because Briony lied about who it was) were smooshed in awful writing.

I thought it was a fucking creepy film, tbh. The girl who was young!Briony was really good, in a disturbing sort of way (actually, nurse!Briony was good as well; she's the same girl who was the Main Charater in I Capture the Castle, and she's withdrawn and cold and awesome).

Prose like that, though, and I won't bother with the book.

All the writers I've read so far this summer could have done with some serious time in fandom. McEwan is not an exception.

This is so true. Why can so many famous authors *not construct a worthwhile, balanced sentence to save their lives*? It's amazing how much fandom teaches you. I can't wait to see sarahtales take the world by storm when her novel gets published.

In terms of *good* fiction, I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. It's *awesome* - the prose is so clean and fresh and layered, and the main character is actually a non-stereotyped girl, and it's, oh, so pop-culturish, but in a good way. [There's even some meta on fandom. Srsly, the MC is part of an online cult who spend hours obsessed with something called "The Footage", and there's mention of flamewars, and online personas, and things!]

I feel sad that I cannot get through Virginia Woolf under normal circumstances. I think I'll take Orlando on holiday and try and finish it.

It's so theraputic and calming to read rants like this. Srsly. Have you considered a career as an unconventional review columnist? Possibly in your (nonexistent, if my med-school friends are right) spare time? It would sell newspapers.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: black catscoradh on July 23rd, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
young Briony being creepy and having an obvious but twisted crush on Robert

But she didn't, you know. Oh, one day, she jumped into a river to get him to fish her out, and told him she WUVED HIM LOTS. And, apparently, that was the end of it. Like hell. Clearly Ian's never had a crush if he thinks they go away that easily.

The prose was not just bad, it was lazy. I gather that he's generally better than this, but it seems he's contracted twenty-whatever-book malaise.

Odd thing about Woolf, at least in To the Lighthouse: I'm liking it better than all the other classics I've read so far this summer. Well - liked is the wrong word; but it's not garnering the intense hatred I've grown used to.

Unconventional is right ... I can't remember how bad I got in this one, but usually 'fuck' is my favourite descriptor. I can't see that going down too well with The Sunday Times. ;D
(no subject) - celebriangel on July 23rd, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on July 23rd, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
blackstarnebulablackstarnebula on July 26th, 2008 06:01 am (UTC)
I had to read Atonement for class and have a love/hate relationship with the book. I actually took me two weeks to read the first 100 pages or so (I'm usually a fast reader and it killed me to read it) - mostly because it was so boring, I couldn't get a feel for the characters and the writing was so long and tedious. Afterwards I sort-of got into it and I enjoyed the ending - I love anything with a plot twist. However I can say that if it wasn't for a class, I wouldn't have read it.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: For the Roadscoradh on July 26th, 2008 07:03 pm (UTC)
I was thinking for a second there what plot twist? Because that's not what I'd have called it. I reckon it was left too open-ended for that - almost a cop-out. The problem was that I stopped trusting Briony as a narrator around page five, she was so very clearly mental, so when it turned out they (maybe? probably?) died, I was like: Meh. So what.

I sort-of got into it too in the hospital part - the only place where I could say he merits any recognition for his writing. Thank god for it too, or it would have been a long six days or whatever.
some Great Lexicographer descending from the skiesroastchicken on August 24th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
Haven't read this one, but I do find your reviews interesting! Since it's mentioned - have you done a rant on Twilight? Would definitely be keen to read that :D
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: bandsscoradh on August 24th, 2008 02:07 pm (UTC)
I haven't done a rant on Twilight for a couple reasons:

it's neither a classic nor a book with any modern literary merit, which the rest of the books are (at least, so I gather)

I never finished it

and, most importantly, it didn't actually stir me to rage. There seems to be only two settings regarding this book: shamed enjoyment and utter virulent hatred. I just found it dull and poorly written, but no more so than a lot of books. If she'd made the romance between Edward and Bella in any way believable, I would have probably liked it - at least a little. But the part where he asks her a bunch of questions about herself ... idek, it just seems like Meyer hasn't the first idea of what attraction between two people really means - odd, given that she's married and all.

As such I don't really have an opinion of it, but I find the wank hilarious. Plus, it gave the world SPARKLE MOTION!
and that was the beginning of fairiesnyx_nox on September 3rd, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
I'm just at the "crime" part now and honestly, I'm right there with ya so far. God save us from over-hyped authors!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: bands: Hush Sound: elegantscoradh on September 3rd, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I somehow don't think he'll be getting on that anytime soon.
wayoffbasewayoffbase on July 15th, 2009 06:55 am (UTC)
I'm finally reading this book (not by choice, it's required reading for ENGL117), and you know what it reminds me of? Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, set in the 1930's. I am not a fan.