Metafictional Elements in Ian Mcewan's Atonement

1255 WordsAug 15, 20126 Pages
Metafictional Elements in Ian McEwan’s Atonement At first reading, Ian McEwan’s Atonement seems to be a modernist novel that owes much of its stylistic techniques to classic novels by authors such as Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. That is, until the first-time reader turns a page to discover the epilogue entitled “London, 1999” and has this illusion shattered by the revelation that in fact Parts One, Two, and Three were penned by none other than the 77-year-old Briony Tallis. This epilogue, and what it divulges about the events we have just read, turns the book into a metafiction. A close rereading of the book turns up multiple references to the fact that it is in fact a manuscript written by the elderly Briony. McEwan’s metafictional…show more content…
In a further metafictional twist, the “imagined or ghostly persona” (329) that Briony could feel walking back to her life as a probationary nurse is in fact the real Briony – the Briony who became a famous novelist. It is here in the epilogue that the possibility of atonement through fiction is opened up. The epilogue itself is what makes this text a metafiction, rather than a novel with metafictional asides. It contains multiple references to the process involved in writing a convincing piece of fiction, evidence for which can be found in the novel proper. For instance, the “letters Mr Nettle wrote [her] about Dunkirk” (359) that were the basis of Robbie’s experiences detailed in Part Two and the numerous rewrites that led to this final version in which her “lovers end well, standing side by side on a South London pavement” (370). This implies that there is more that has been left out of and added to the manuscript by Briony over the years, and indeed McEwan makes reference to this earlier on in the novel when Briony realises “that whatever actually happened drew its significance from her published work and would not have been remembered without it” (41). This attitude towards the facts – and Briony’s editing of the truth despite her claims that she has “regarded it as [her] duty to disguise nothing” (369) – is the very thing that prevents her from achieving atonement. For one thing, Briony admits that she is “too old, too frightened” (371) to not give

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