This is probably the worst book I have ever read.
I've read some fairly bad books - I've read Twilight - but this was something else. This was awful. Everything about it, from beginning to end, was just very, very, inexcusably bad.
Let's take the first part - the part where all the action happens. Sort of. Except for the fact that nothing happens for seven chapters, aside from McEwan's (OR IS IT?) endless descriptions of every minute detail of everything in the house or adjacent to the house or that once rubbed shoulders with something twice-removed from the house. His prose is horrible, cloying, droning, and ultimately, boring. I love wordy books, I love the scenery that words can construct. This didn't work for me. Also, was it hot day? Did he ever mention it was a hot day? I THINK HE MIGHT JUST HAVE.
Then, there's the characters. God how I hate every single one of them. They're either directly, obviously hateful (Lola, Briony, Paul Marshall and his rapist's moustache (WHY DIDN'T ANYONE SEE IT COMING?), Emily) or they're just stupid (Cecelia and Robbie, mainly). Each and every single one of them is a cliche, and by the point it came to the big, terrible, awful thing which was to happen to them, I had simply ceased to care. Okay, so we know Robbie's not a rapist. Big deal. The whole thing feels horribly contrived taken at face value - taken in the context of what is learned later in the book, I didn't find any greater meaning behind this.
The pacing is all off, too. I think the idea was to create suspense. This did not happen. By about Chapter Ten I was seriously considering chucking the whole thing, but I pressed on.
Part Two is, if possible, worse than Part One. Here is where Ian McEwan regurgitates everything he ever possibly knew about WWII. Firstly, it's all over the place, jumping from time period to time period in a completely unclear manner. Secondly, again, it's boring. Part Three is just cringeworthy. BRIONY BECOMES A NURSE MAYBE THIS MAKES HER A GOOD PERSON GUYS. I just don't see what we're supposed to care about, here... so I'm just going to skip to the end.
So, what WAS the point? Briony? Briony who turns out in the last part to have been narrating the whole thing? Is this in fact part of her journey? What flaming journey? She's gone from being a terrible author with issues telling the difference between fantasy and reality to... what? She's still a terrible author! She's still got horrible issues! Who the hell cares by this point? McEwan's grasp of characterisation is tenuous at best. The characters, as seen through the eyes of Briony, are one-note caricatures. It doesn't matter if this is, in fact, the point - it doesn't make it a good device. I can get a picture of them as people, the problem is that they're not interesting people and they're certainly impossible to care about. I read this directly after reading Herzog, and perhaps, given the richness of the characterisation in that, I am being too harsh on this book. Can't all be astronauts! However, the idea that somehow it's excusable that the writing in this book is so bad because it's being seen through the eyes of this unreliable, thirteen-year old narrator, is ridiculous. If that is supposed to be the point, it was very badly executed. Surely if the point is supposed to be that Briony has grown up an accepted what she's done, then she would be able to see the whole situation more clearly, and write a better book? And if she hasn't, then, as I said before, she hasn't really gone on a journey in the book, and all anyone learns from the book is that there are horrible, twisted people in the world - HEY GUYS, I THINK WE GOT THAT MEMO.
This has turned into a ramble. I do HAVE coherent thoughts on this book, but every time I start typing I get lost in a sea of completely anger that this utter inanity ever, ever became successful. It's very, very rare that I dislike a book this much. I can usually find positives to say about almost anything. I can't with this - it had no redeeming features at all.
Oh no, wait, it had one. "I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR SAVING MY LIFE. I WILL BE ETERNALLY GRATEFUL TO YOU."
Ian McEwan clearly owes Toy Story a debt (btw, those films? WAY BETTER WRITING.)