I absolutely adored the book when I first read it many years ago, especially Ian McEwan’s descriptions of the ripeness of Robbie and Cecilia’s sensual awakening.
After knowing each other all their lives, on a sweltering day of growing agitation, Robbie concedes to the force of their unacknowledged attraction by ‘accidentally’ sending the wrong note of apology to Cecilia prior to a formal family dinner.
“The anticipation and dread he felt at seeing her was also a kind of sensual pleasure, and surrounding it, like an embrace, was a general elation – it might hurt, it was horribly inconvenient, no good might come of it, but he had found out for himself what it was to be in love, and it thrilled him.”
Cecilia is shocked by his note but his words make her realise that the friction growing between them is sexual and the cause of her frustration, resulting in ‘that’ scene in the library.
“Daringly, they touched the tips of their tongues, and it was then she made the falling sighing sound which, he realised later, marked a transformation. Until that moment, there was still something ludicrous about having a familiar face so close to one’s own. They felt watched by their bemused childhood selves.”
After their lovemaking is interrupted by Cecilia’s young sister, they sit torturously close at dinner:
“At the top of her shoulder was a little dent, scalloped in the bone, or suspended between two bones, with a fuzz of shadow along it’s rim. His tongue would soon trace the oval of this rim and push into the hollow. His excitement was close to pain and sharpened by the pressure of contradictions: she was familiar like a sister, she was exotic like a lover; he had always known her, he knew nothing about her; she was plain, she was beautiful; she was capable … and twenty minutes ago she had wept; his stupid letter had repelled her but it unlocked her. He regretted it and he exulted in his mistake. They would be alone together soon, with more contradictions – hilarity and sensuousness, desire and fear at their recklessness, awe and impatience to begin …
They would wrap themselves in the satin darkness and begin again.”
I vividly remember my delight (and surprise) when I first saw the movie adaptation to find it was possibly even more beautiful than reading ‘Atonement’. One of the rare occasions the movie surpasses the pleasure of reading. It may have a little something to do with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy playing the leads.
The scene where attraction sparks between them, but is still unacknowledged:
I know it has a lot to do with the scene in the library. So hot – even hotter when you watch it as part of the entire gorgeous movie, which I did recently.
I love watching Robbie write the note that he accidentally has delivered to Cecilia: