Literapedia Book Notes for

Atonement by Ian McEwan


  • Briony (ch 1)— The youngest of the Tallis children. She is a novelist and nurse during the war.
  • Lola (ch 1)— The eldest of the the cousins. She is a sophisticated teenager whom Briony idealizes.
  • Pierrot and Jackson (ch 1)— the twins and the cousins. They are rambuctious boys who love to play.
  • Leon (ch 1)— The eldest of the Tallis children. He goes to college.
  • Cecilia (ch 2)— also called Cee, she is the middle child of the Tallis children. She is the motherly figure in her family when her mother is sick. She went to Cambridge and became a nurse during the war.
  • Robbie (ch 2)--- the son of one of the Tallis' employees. His father left while he was young. Mr. Tallis paid for his education. He went to Cambridge and fought in the war. He was also called the "guv'nor."
  • Paul Marshall (ch 4)--- A friend of Leon who seems very blockheaded and boring. He intends to make a candy that the soldiers can eat while at war.
  • Old Man Hardman (ch 4)--- The grounds keeper of the Tallis estate.
  • Danny Hardman (ch 4)--- The son of Old man Hardman who helps his father around the property.
  • Emily (ch 6)--- The mother of the Tallis household. She gives an outside perspective on the family, while she tries to maintain order in the changing family.
  • Jack (ch 12)--- The father of the Tallis household. He never actually makes an appearance, but he is talked about as not ever being home and always working.
  • Corporal Nettle (Pt 2, ch 1)--- one of the men who Robbie traveled with when he retreated through France.
  • Corporal Mace (Pt 2, ch 1)--- one of the men who Robbie traveled with when he retreated through France.
  • Fiona (Pt 3, ch 1)--- Briony's roommate and friend during nurse training.
  • Sister Drummond (Pt 3, ch 1)--- The head nurse of Briony's class of trainees.
  • Charles (Epilogue)--- Pierrot's grandson. He plans the party for Briony.

Chapter Summaries

  1. Briony writes a play, and casts her cousins who just moved in for their parts.
  2. Cecilia picks flowers and goes outside to fill the vase with water. She meets Robbie, and they break Uncle Clem's vase that he received in WW1.
  3. Briony tries to direct play practice. Left alone, she considers the movement of a finger and writing. She sees the scene between Cecilia and Robbie.
  4. Cecilia fixes the vase, and Leon comes home and brings Paul Marshall.
  5. Paul Marshall takls to the cousins. Lola eats the candy that he offers her.
  6. Emily comtemplates her pains, both physically and emotionally.
  7. Briony goes to the island temple and thrashes "nettles." Briony depicts the arrival of Leon
  8. Robbie reflects on his relationship with the Tallises and Celilia. He writes an innappropriate note to Cee and accidently sends it to Cee with Briony as the deliverer.
  9. Cecilia gets the house ready for dinner and catches up with Leon. Briony gives her Robbie's note after Briony reads it.
  10. Briony reflects on the note and consoles a crying Lola. She walks into the library and thinks Robbie is attacking Lola.
  11. Robbie tells the story of what happened in the library between him and Cecilia. The Twins run away.
  12. Emily reflects on Lola and Hermione's similarities. She receives a call from her husband. Leon, Cecilia, Briony, and Lola return to the house from their search for the twins.
  13. Briony witnesses Lola being raped and tells the police, though occasionally having doubts, that the attacker was Robbie.
  14. Briony is interviewed while everyone waits for Robbie to return to the house. She shows the police Cecilia's letter, and Robbie brings the twins home and is arrested.

  1. Robbie along with Corporals Mace and Nettle retreat through France and receive accomodations from two French brothers.
  2. Robbie thinks about Cee's letters and the last time he saw her before going to war. Briony contacts Cee.
  3. Robbie, Mace, and Nettle continue their trek and join a large party that was retreating to the coast. A bomb hits the group.
  4. Robbie thinks about Cee and Briony. He contemplates the summer he taught Briony how to swim and their relationship, concluding that he can never forgive her.
  5. Robbie tries to help a woman and her child during a stuka attack. The corporals and Robbie fake an injury to escape from being asked to guard the troup.
  6. Robbie, Mace, and Nettle reach the coast. Mace defends an RAF agent, and Robbie and Nettle catch a pig and rest in a cellar, hearing news that the boats arrive the next day.

  1. Briony has become a nurse trainnee and discusses the preparations of the hospital for what she does not know.
  2. Though her mother writes her often, Briony avoids her family and writes a story during her time off.
  3. Briony's father, Jack, writes her that Lola and Paul Marshall are to be married. She tries to call her father to talk to him.
  4. Briony and Fiona listen to music and return to the hospital to find soldiers everywhere. Briony nurses many different patients, such as a Luc Cornet. She receives a letter from the magazine she submitted her story to.
  5. Briony continues to nurse soldiers and contemplates the war. She goes to Paul Marshall and Lola's weeding.
  6. Briony finds Cecilia to tell her that she is changing her statement, and Robbie comes home. He gets angry when talking to her, but Cee calms him with her look. Briony states that Paul Marshall raped Lola, and Robbie gives her things to do, in a way, to make up for what she did, but there is no indication of forgiveness. We see that Briony is the speaker of the story.

LONDON, 1999
Briony finds out that she will slowly lose her memory due to sickness, and she sees Lola and Paul on her way to finalizing this story. She returns to her chilhood home, which is now a resort, for her birthday party, and Leon and Pierrot, along with family members she did not know greeted her warmly. The grandchildren perform Briony's The Trials of Arabella, Briony's first play. Seeing it, she considers how much novelists are like God writing the story and creating their own ending, admitting that she could not finish the story until the lovers flourished unlike their true ending.

Book Note Creator

Carley Beckner, Class of 2008