"Atonement" is the eleventh book written by Ian McEwan. It was published in 2001 and won the W.H. Smith Literary Award in 2002, the National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award in 2003, the L.A. Times Prize for Fiction in 2003, and the Santiago...
Ian McEwan was born in Aldershot, England on June 21, 1948. His father was a Scotsman and was a sergeant major in the British Army. As a result, Ian spent some of his childhood living abroad in places like Singapore and Libya while his father was on military campaigns during the Cold War.
McEwan's mother was previously married and had two children from that marriage. One, her oldest son Ernest Wort, was killed in action during the D-Day invasions of France in 1944. Ian's mother and father also had a child out of wedlock, David Sharp, who was given up for adoption in 1942 because of the affair between his parents before Ian's mother was divorced. McEwan has referred to instances of alcohol and spousal abuse initiated by his father. In one interview, the author remembers attempting to intervene in such abuse; he was prevented from doing so by his mother who insisted it was not his place to get involved. For all intents and purposes, Ian McEwan was an only child. An interesting anecdote to his family life is that McEwan's mother suffered from vascular dementia - the same disease that afflicts heroine Briony Tallis in "Atonement."
McEwan was separated from his parents in 1959 when he was 12 years old and they were living in Libya. At that time, Ian was sent back to England to attend Woolverstone Hall Boarding School, where he stayed until 1966.
From 1966-70, McEwan attended the University of Sussex. It was here where he first realized and voiced an interest in becoming a writer. While studying at Sussex, McEwan wrote mainly for performance, completing scripts for the stage, radio play, and television sketches. It wasn't until 1970, when McEwan was earning an MA from the University of Anglia, that he shifted to prose. At Anglia, McEwan was introduced to a group of young American writers - Norman Mailer, John Updike, Henry Mellow, and Saul Bellow - who would have a great effect on him and his writing.
Following graduation from Anglia, McEwan left Europe to spend a year in Afghanistan. Upon his return, he married what he referred to as a complete "free spirit," the young and liberated Penny Allen. McEwan and Allen had two sons together, but their marriage was short-lived. As McEwan's fame began to grow in Britain's literary world, Allen became frustrated and the two were divorced shortly thereafter. Their break-up became somewhat of a media circus when Allen fled the country with her new husband, Ismay Tremain, for France, taking the boys with her. Eventually, she was fined and ordered to return to Britain.
Following the episode with Allen, McEwan married long-time Guardian editor Annalena McAfee. Together, the two have continued to raise McEwan's sons.
McEwan's literature often focuses on themes of time, history, and knowledge, as well as the exploration of twisted interiors. As a postmodern author, McEwan is self-referential in much of his work, and many of his characters are some form of writer.
Today, Ian McEwan continues his incredible pace of churning out literature. McEwan is an avid activist in the fight for climate control and a regular contributor to The Guardian Review as well as an outspoken atheist. The respected writer openly fights against all religions, specifically Islam, for which he has said he has no patience. The attacks on New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001 had a lasting and profound effect on McEwan. He has written many fictional and opinion-based essays on the war against terrorism and the misrepresented philosophies of religion.
McEwan also speaks openly about his views of the role of the artist in today's society: His biographer Ian Wells has this to say about him:
"He, as an artist, can play a role in creating a more morally attuned society: through his activism as a public intellectual, devoting his time to causes such as gender equality, nuclear disarmament, and environmentalism; and through his fiction, which he views as a medium for enhancing people's compassionate abilities to imagine the lives of others" (30).
Study Guides on Works by Ian McEwan
The Cement Garden is Ian McEwan's 1978 novel that explores complex themes of maturing, family, and dealing with loss. The novel follows Jack, the narrator, and his siblings, as they attempt to grow up without having parents. The novel is...
Enduring Love, published in 1997, is Ian McEwan's sixth novel and one of his most successful, shortlisted for several prizes. It was adapted into a film in 2004. It tells the story of Joe Rose, who struggles to maintain his comfortable life and...
On Chesil Beach is a novel written by Ian McEwan about the changes in society on an example of the newlyweds, who had married in the early 1960s, before the sexual revolution. The novel was published in Britain in 2007.
An English society of the...