Atonement: An Exquisite Panorama

The title ‘Atonement‘ and the back cover of the 2001 Ian McEwan book suggests an emotional journey, a wrenching coming-of-age tale, that starts from an incident and extends well beyond it in real life ramifications and in memory.

Widely regarded as one of Ian McEwan’s best works, it was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize for fiction. In 2007, the book was adapted into a BAFTA and Academy Award-winning film of the same title.

A few pages into the book and I knew this was not going to be an ordinary, swift read. The language is lyrical so that to roll over the words quickly was to let go of mini impressions that make up the larger picture. There are tiny flickers of emotions that fit the pieces of the puzzle of how our minds perceive things.

Ian McEwan’s exquisite book starts in pre war England, when war is still far from public imagination. In an idyllic country house, the lives of the people living therein and visiting are about to change irrevocably through a short, nearly invisible incident; invisible and unnoticed by everyone except the budding 13 year old writer whose verdurous imagination leads her to think of things beyond her understanding.

Briony, the youngest in the household or nearly so, if we discount her cousins, the twins, and yet the pivotal figure whose (mis) understanding of the events that unfold before her lead her to act in ways that has a lasting impact on the people she loves. Years later, she comes to a complete realisation of her actions and her suppositions and sets out to put things right.

In Briony’s atonement, fate plays a part and the journey that begins in a country house pans across the second world war, bringing the horrors of the war to the reader, in stark contrast with the placid gardens of her house.

The story begins in England, in 1935. The events of one day in summer are set out. The cast comprises of Briony, the precocious 13 year old, who is on the threshold of adulthood and literary revelation, or so she feels. Her elder sister, Cecilia is home after graduation, soaking in the glorious summer heat and wondering what to do with her life. On the same estate is Robbie, recently graduated, like Cecilia and on the cusp of an exciting life ahead that is full of possibilities. Leon, the eldest son of the household is awaited eagerly by all that evening. He is to be accompanied by the business tycoon, Paul Marshall. To the household are added the unfortunate and confused nine year old twins and their scheming, attention-seeking older sister, Lola; escaping a broken home and sent to the country to find love and care. The father, Leon’s, Cecilia’s and Briony’s, is large in his absence and we come to know of him through his wife, Emily, who nurses her migraine and her thoughts in private; in darkened rooms, with a heightened sense of understanding and prescience.

The country house sees talent, love, passion, intrigue, resignation in equal measures in the span of a day. The day unfolds through different eyes. Every character is wrapped in his/her world, musing, wondering and the stream of consciousness narrative reminds me of ‘The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf. Briony, who till now has been penning down tales of love reunited, of valour and of an ideal world, stumbles upon the Stream of Consciousness way of narrative through her partial witnessing of the pivotal incidents of the day. The writer in her muses on this with a new set of eyes.

There is an undercurrent of joy in writing that Briony is aware of; she knows what stories do to her.

” ...writing stories not only involved secrecy, it also gave her all the pleasures of miniaturization. A world could be made in five pages and one that was more pleasing than a model farm. The childhood of a spoiler prince could be framed within half a page, a moonlit dash through sleepy villages was one rhythmically emphatic sentence, falling in love could be achieved in a single word-a glance. The pages of a recently finished story seemed to vibrate in her hand with all the life they contained.”

Briony is intense, with a depth of feeling that clarifies itself in her writings. She wonders,

Was everyone really as alive as she was?… everyones’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim in life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance.

This thought process then is in some measure a portent of what is to come. Everyone is at the center of his/her universe, and yet on the whole they are like anyone else, everyone else and their lives, the entire arc of their struggle and redemption pale into insignificance or irrelevance in the bigger picture; when a measure of a life well lived is taken; when Briony in her old age is surrounded by family and the entire lifetimes are rattled off in a matter of sentences.

Part of the reason for Briony’s confusion on the fateful day is the inability to reconcile her feelings. She struggles with a ‘chaotic swarm of impressions’, the complexity of which convinces her that she is entering an ‘arena of adult emotion.’ Briony is a writer, first and foremost and she longs to set down the emotions on paper.

What she wanted was to be lost to the unfolding of an irresistible idea, to see the black thread spooling out from the end of her scratchy silver nib and coiling into words.”

We understand, then, as to what prompted Briony to act the way she did. Emily, Briony’s mother, has a depth of understanding in the workings of the human mind. Her stoicism and acceptance of her husband’s absence, literally and figuratively and her knowledge of old age, when he would return to her for a companionable life is striking. All the more striking is her very real weakness when it comes to Lola and her vulnerability. Emily is shrewd enough to see her sister Hermione in Lola and that prevents her from complete love and attention towards her sister’s children. Emily as a mother, for that is what she is now, is wondrous. She thinks of Leon’s ‘diminishing prospects’ with a sense of clarity. Of Cecilia, Emily is dismayed that she is disappointed with her academic performance. Emily muses that Cecilia

had no job or skill and still had a husband to find and motherhood to confront.”

Thinking about Briony, Emily regrets the

passing of an age of eloquence.

Already, Emily knows that her youngest is at the threshold of adulthood, struggling out of the mould of innocent, garrulous childhood. And yet, for all her understanding, Emily bows down to her prejudices when she is at the helm of decisions regarding the indictment of someone she has known for long years.

The fateful day full of unexpected events is spent, and for everyone involved, their lives change forever. The lull, the idyllic gives way to the ugly and the unexpected and soon the story moves to the battlefields of the second world war and to the weary trudge of the retreating British army through the French countryside. The horrors of the war as seen from a soldier’s eyes are presented; the disillusionment and the weariness that hides the vestiges of strength and courage. Death and terror, through Stuka attacks are so minutely described that I can visualise them to the last detail and feel the terror.

Superimposed on the war is love. War seems all encompassing; with wide swathes it takes in everything, destroying all in its wake. Love, private, ‘a lonely preoccupation’, flickers tentatively, feeding on memories and little stolen encounters, on words and on simple phrases that were uttered, on the dreams of a future and the urgency of love to uphold itself, high above the mundane. There is a tender pain of reunions, of things that might be and the wonder if the ideals of love would supercede the bleak realism of war and of life itself.

In the next part of the book, we come back to Briony’s viewpoint and her life choices. She has enrolled to be a nurse, to contribute to the war effort and to atone for her actions that fateful day when everything changed as per her thoughts and understanding. Her experiences with the sick and the dying are visceral and it shows another side of the war.

The book ends in present day England. The past is seen through Briony’s eyes, her relatives making up the carousel; the here-and-now described in delicate detail-the ordinary detail that makes up our lives; the near future, the projected and the expected turn of events described with a sense of resignation and stoicism to the wheel of existence. What captures us here are the stories within the story, the long awaited screening of Arabella, an allusion to other works of Briony and her masterpiece that has been written but that needs an opportune time for publication.

Atonement is a brilliant narrative of love, war, life. It is characterized by different hues and imagery that is both abstract and stark.

8 Things I Discovered in 8 months of writing listicles

So the year was drawing to a close and the new one was dawning and all I wanted to do was to bring a Big change in my life without it sounding like a Resolution list, because, you know, only 6% of people are able to keep their resolutions by month 4 ( I seriously don’t know what happens when that year draws to a close).

Apart from the usuals of exercising more and eating healthier and going ballistic in my career and earning potential and being kind-more to myself, I also wanted to write more. And I knew that the first few months of the year were going to be busy. So I started a list of blog ideas which brought up my dormant desire of writing list based articles. I pledged to do just that and started with Friday Listicles. It meant that I had decided to do atleast one post per week till the time I could pick up the pieces of my life and write more meaningful stuff.

I have been posting a listicle every Friday, barring one, of this year. And that one Friday when I did not post was the one week my readers heaved a sigh of relief for being spared the torture.

I started off the listicle series by talking of what they are, how I love them and how they are hated by many. After a few months of writing them, I found out that…

1. You can get lazy when you write Listicles. After all, most of the structuring has been done for you. You only need to think of a title and like a magician be able to procure points upon points related to the topic. You could do a 23 point list, with nothing to show for the points and you could do a Top 3 list, where the content takes precedence over the number.

Some weeks I was lazy, admittedly and other weeks I wrote well-thought out lists with pertinent points. The choice is yours. You can let the list get you lazy or you can focus better on the content because you don’t need to take care of the structure.

2. The endings of the lists are important too. Most often I would list out the few points of whatever I was talking about and just close the post at the last point. Through some feedback and through some intelligent reading of my own posts, I realised that the listicles needed an ending as much as a long form article does. Wrapping it up well in the end is good for the reader and good for the one writing it.

3. Listicles really are quick. Quick to peruse and quick to write. Did I really want my readers to glance and skim and leave? The better way was to keep the subheads introductory and yet not revealing everything. Through building a little intrigue I was able to hold interest (hopefully) and found that people did read the Listicles to the end.

4. But no, lists and by extension, Listicles are not dumb. I covered a little of it in point 1 and really one of the cardinal roles in writing a listicle is to not repeat yourself but I had to put it clearer. It is up to the writer to write meaningful, engaging, well researched content and elevate the form.

5. The number in the listicle heading counts. Yes, it counts because it is a number but saying ‘A few things that I found while travelling by train’ does not sound as enticing as ‘ 7 surprising things that you wish you knew about travelling in a train’. A good title counts and brings in more readers. It is not because of the number but the fact that the writer has chosen to show the unique viewpoint in the title itself.

6. Are odd numbers in the titles better than even? Frankly, I don’t know. Apparently, internet proclaims that an odd number in the title brings in more attention but to my mind it could be the equivalent of clickbait. So, let the content speak for itself rather than resorting to little gimmicks.

7. It is possible to show who you are through your listicle too. Often, it is complained that we cannot get the writer’s voice in the list but I have found that it is possible to set the tone in your listicle. It is possible to have a witty twist or a serious discussion , not at the same time of course and give the reader a glimpse of the person behind the listicle. The choice of the topic itself is a guess enough.

8. Writing a listicle need not be a sloppy job. It is not a list created out of random facts. The only lazy thing that you can allow a listicle to do is to create a structure for your article. You can write well, hold forth on anything with authority if you have researched the subject and write the in-depth articles and the high brow topics that you want to write.

A listicle need not be the bubble wrap of modern living; it could be the cushion that leads you to difficult topics gently.

This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend.

10 Quotes on Writing and why I find them Inspiring

When I have a few bad writing days at a stretch, I look over at some quotes that inspire me to write again. They remind me of the magic of words and the rhythm of a narrative. The quotes bring me back to that part in me that feels most alive when I write.

1. “And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss.”

J. K. Rowling

This for the sheer love for the act itself. Just the feel of being with a notebook and writing for only the sake of it. Creating only for the pleasure of it.

2. “For writing means revealing one self to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind…That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

This speaks to me so eloquently. When in solitude, I find that wringing out one’s soul needs an even deeper state of aloneness.

3. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov

A classic case of show, don’t tell. Chekhov just told us how to do that and there is an immense delicacy in the act of showing.

4. “Always be a poet, even in prose.”

Charles Baudelaire

I always look for a cadence and a rhythm in prose. Not for me the mere arc of a story; a slice of life, beautifully expressed is enough.

5. “Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”

Meg Rosoff

When I write, I am mostly concerned with shaping a good sentence, a perfectly framed paragraph and a cogent narrative. And yet, I can recognise a unique voice and it is a priceless gift.

6. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway

I have mused over this quote a hundred times and always come away nodding. Isn’t it the beauty of writing that it lets you bare your soul?

7. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Ray Bradbury

Plenty of writers hear that accusation from others, of being drunk on words, on writing. And of being absorbed in make believe worlds. How can we tell them how euphoric it is?

8. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

Truman Capote

Yes. The inner music. The rhythm that we write to. The cadence that lends itself to our words.

9. “Writing is a very focused form of meditation. Just as good as sitting in a lotus position.”

Alan Moore

Writing as meditation rejuvenates you. It brings you back from the lifeless into the vibrancy of being.

10.” great writers are indecent people

they live unfairly

saving the best part for paper.

good human beings save the world

so that bastards like me can keep creating art,

become immortal.

if you read this after I am dead

it means I made it.”

Charles Bukowski, The People Look Like Flowers at Last

How can this list of quotes not feature Bukowski who sometimes mocks life itself and who remains a brutal realist long after his life ended.

Do any of these quotes speak to you? Please share the quotes that you feel inspired by.

If we were having coffee together


If we were having coffee…I would tell you about my new found fascination for leaves. I would tell you how I find the rain drop dripping leaves beautiful. I look at their perfect blades and their rounded curves whenever I step out and try to take lovely photographs. They might have come out as the second best choice when I could not find any flowers to click in this new place, but now they are an obsession.

If we were having coffee…you are bound to ask me how I am managing in a new city. And then I would pass you the biscuits that I made from scratch while trying out my new oven and tell you how I am loving every moment of being in a new place and soaking in all the newness.

You would comment on the chilli flakes in the biscuits and might even say that you like your biscuits sweet. I would then have to convince you that this was the only and the easiest recipe that I could try out.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you how I am fascinated by a new language. I would put on a fake accent and punctuate my conversation with the words I have learnt. You might point out that I need to know complete sentences and not just throw about random words. This would make me laugh and I would shrug nonchalantly. We would then talk about how we are attracted to foreign languages.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you all about the little lake that I am fortunate enough to live near. I would tell you how it is nearly the first thing I look at when I am up in the morning. I would talk of its varying colours that reflect the sky’s myriad moods. I would talk of the flickering evening light and how it seems to skim on the water surface. I would tell you how the water is framed by palm fronds that sway with the breeze.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you of the new perspectives that are shaping my thinking. I would tell you how exciting it is to meet new people who challenge my views of the way things should be. I would tell you that I am grateful to see another viewpoint and a glimpse of other inner worlds.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you how I feel dizzy at the endless possibilities and opportunities that I seem to find everywhere. I would tell you that it is as if the rain has washed away all the dust of uncertainty and everything is fresh. I would then hold forth about the thundering rain and the howling wind and the slants of water hitting the earth every day.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you of the different coffee brews that I am sampling these days. I would tell you of the wonderous brew that the beverage chef of the hotel would prepare, smiling his pleasure at my appreciation. I would tell you of the different brands that I encounter in the supermarket. I would tell you of the coffee I had in the train and the coffee I had at the roadside vendor. 

If we were having coffee…I would tell you how sharing coffee or a meal makes me want to talk more. I would tell you that I am transported to coffee shops where I have shared so many talks with friends and strangers. I feel so much at ease that I want to expound on my philosophy of life. Your horrified look would stop me from the expostulation, of course.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you of how I am spinning yarns and weaving tales in my mind. The stories threaten to spill out. I would tell you how different characters seem to come up to me at every place. I would tell you how I feel like stopping people on their way and asking them about their thoughts on life and their daily routine.

If we were having coffee…I would tell you how much I love our talks together.

Deceived: A Psychological Thriller

Book Cover Reveal – Deceived by Heena Rathore P.

Deceived, a psychological thriller and Heena’s debut novel is set to be released in February 2017.

Her book cover has been released and I found the cover design to be very apt for the thriller that it is. It conveys mystery and intrigue! 

PUBLISHING: FEBRUARY 2017 BY CITRUS PUBLISHERS

Blurb:

How well do you know your loved ones?



A girl who’s trying to cope with the murders of her mother and five-year-old brother.

A journalist who is chasing the ghost of a potential serial killer.

A thirteen-year-old girl who slaughters her parents.

And a revenge-driven psychopath who is about to destroy everyone’s life.
A psychological thriller that weaves its way through the sadistic past of a traumatized child to the snare of dark mysteries of a beloved father.

Add to your Goodreads to-read shelf 

About Heena Rathore P.:

Heena Rathore P. is a 25-year-old full-time novelist, part-time Social Media Strategist, Novel Critique, Book Reviewer and a YouTube Podcaster. 

She draws her inspiration from the works of legendary Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon.

She is an introvert, a thinker, a neat freak, a voracious reader and a GSD-lover. In her free time, she loves watching apocalyptic, thriller and slasher movies and series. 

She lives in Pune with her beloved husband in a house full of books, music, and love.

She loves creating fictional worlds, but more than that she loves living in them.

WEBSITE

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Ink and Misery 

Like many writers I feel tempted to dabble in ink and taste the misery of writing at the same time. 

Some writing projects are so visceral that they bring forth thoughts and emotions that have been kept under wraps for years or decades. There is no way to turn back once you have committed. The only way is forward , going deeper into the recesses of the mind, being relentless with the memories and the impressions .

NaNoWriMo is one such project and after just a week of writing crazily, I am amazed at what it entails. The first few thousand words flow easily ; they tumble out quick and fast and there is a feeling that it is the precursor to a flood of words. 

With the month long writing, I am trying to deal with my fears. It is not the fear of failure; of not being able to reach 50,000 words or even the fear of succeeding but the fear of knowing finally that I cannot write. I have held the idea that there are infinite words bottled up inside me and all I need is the time and the inclination to write them. For this month I give myself the luxury of time and the resolve of following through to thousands of words, much more than what I could comfortably write till now. At the end of it all, or maybe even before that I might discover that I. Cannot. Write. More. 

There is also the fear of putting out all of my impressions into words, the impressions that have been accumulated till now. After I let go of them all, would I be empty inside? Would I be able to dredge up even a single word more? Would I be able to look at the world through new eyes again? Would I ever be able to hoard up more emotions that I could express? 

I also want the exhilaration of knowledge . Of knowing how I can write. Whether I can write in sprints or in longer stretches; what times are the best for my writing, what really inspires me- grief, pain, love, longing, joy, achievement? What would it take to push me out of my comfort zone and once out there what I am capable of ?

I am writing and discovering… 

Some Coffee? 

If we were having coffee… I would exclaim at your changed appearance. I would notice that now you wear your hair longer and your dresses shorter. Your pudgy hands would be clammy still and you would rock back and forth in your chair in intense concentration, losing yourself in the conversation we should have had so many times in these years but somehow never got around to having. 

I would smile secretly at your tinkling laughter, reminding me of the little temple bells that ring every evening all over ‘your’ town. It is a town that you refused to acknowledge, drowning in the imagined shame of being a small town girl. Yet it has been something that defined you even in your refusal and casting away of your essential identity. 

If we were having coffee… I would listen to your stories in your low throaty voice that I have always adored. I would not want to interrupt you while filling your coffee cup unobstrusively, taking care of the milk and the sugar. I would know exactly how you like your coffee for we have shared a cup many times before. 

I would remind you of the cold mornings when we huddled together, bleary eyed over our lukewarm coffee, trying to clear our minds and gear up for the recommended reading for the week. 

You would wonder however how my coffee was now much stronger than I used to like . 

If we were having coffee… You would tell me all about your family. You would tell me of the holi celebrations back at your brother’s place where you go wild playing with colour. You would tell me of your midnight snacks of bread and crunchy bhujia as you watched mindless tv. 

I would remind you of the impromptu parties we would have back when we were living in that ship shaped building, our rooms separated by a narrow corridor that was the scene of so many whispered conversations. 

If we were having coffee… I would tell you how little I have been shopping for myself these days. You would not be very surprised for I have always struggled with it. You would remind me of the all black outfit that I bought for the party. We would talk of the time we went traipising though the narrow by lanes of the old city to the impossibly compact clothed shop, hunting for something that was eye catching. You would laugh at the way I was always wearing black and ask me why I had started leaning towards pastels in my wardrobe. 

If we were having coffee… I would ask you hesitantly if you wanted something to eat. I would listen to you carefully just to gauge if it were the right time to unburden myself. 

I would apologize to you for not replying to your letter to me that you had sent right after I moved away. I would tell you of the blue inland letter envelope that I still had tucked in the pages of my book. I would tell you that I do not read that book now, do not flip through its pages incessantly and absentmindedly. I do not turn to it for comfort. Yet, I would tell you that the book is part of the memory of a great phase of my life. 

I would tell you, in little words and through contrite pauses, of the anger I had held onto for so long. I would hint at the perceived wrongs and my furious response . I would tell you that how I had never intended to reply to the letter. I would also tell you that with time our perceptions change and some introspection is all that is needed to bring purity back to our hearts. 

You would wonder at how long I had held on to the hurt. You would then hold my hand and murmur that it does not matter really, in the long run. 

If we were having coffee… You would smile kindly at me and take out the brightly coloured hand made paper folder from your bag and hand it to me. I would gf out my hand happily for this would match the papier mache boxes you had bought for me many years ago. 

You would be delighted when I tell you that they have graced my cabinet for all these years reminding me of her and the future that was yet to be. 

If we were having coffee… We would promise to meet up once in a while for coffee, a lot more frequently.