• Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

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  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

'This novel had everything': An Oral History of Ian McEwan's Atonement

Photos related to the cover of Atonement by Ian McEwan Critical acclaim, record sales and a film starring Keira Knightley made Atonement a publishing phenomenon. From its origins as a sci-fi story to the elaborate creation of its iconic cover, the behind-the-scenes story is no less gripping. Here, in the year of its 20th anniversary and publisher Jonathan Cape's centenary, we tell the full story of the book that changed British fiction.

"Emerging from the ruins of a disregarded sci-fi short story, Atonement was filed rapidly and in parts, the novel’s crucial final section arriving only after production had already begun. Along the way, McEwan changed the title at the last minute, and the publishing house embarked on one of the largest photoshoots it had undertaken to take a risk on what became its most enduring cover. What resulted was a collision of publishing good fortune – and one of the greatest books of the 21st century. In the centenary year of publisher Jonathan Cape, and 20 years since it appeared in bookshelves, here’s how Atonement happened, according to the people who were there." — From the introduction by Alice Vincent

Read the full oral history on the Penguin website.

Select Editions

London: Jonathan Cape, 2001 (371 p., ISBN: 0224062522).

New York: Nan A. Talese, 2002 (351 p., ISBN: 0385503954).

London: Vintage, 2002 (371 p., ISBN: 0099429799).

(Large Print). Bath, England: Chivers Press, 2002 (613 p., ISBN: 0786239212).

(Audio / Read by Jill Tanner). Prince Fredrick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002 (10 cassettes, 14 hrs., 15 mins. / ISBN: 1402517963).

(Audio / Read by Josephine Bailey). Beverly Hills, CA: The Publishing Mills, 2002 (4 cassettes/ 5 CDs, 6 hrs. / ISBN: 1575111136).

(Audio / Read by Carole Boyd). Bath: Chivers Audio Books, 2002 (10 cassettes, 12 hrs., 33 mins. / ISBN: 0754008304; 10 CDs, ISBN: 0754055124).

Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2001 (371 p., ISBN: 0676974554).

Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2002 (371 p., ISBN: 0676974562).

(Large Print). Bath: Windsor, 2002 (612 p., ISBN: 0754017524).

Expiació (Catalan / Trans. by Puri Gómez Casademont). Barcelona: Empúries Editorial / Anagrama, 2002 (473 p., ISBN: 8475969372).

Expiación (Spanish / Trans. by Jaime Zulaika). Barcelona: Anagrama Editorial, 2002 (435 p., ISBN: 8433969757).

Boetekleed (Trans. by Rien Verhoef) Amsterdam: De Harmonie, 2002 (320 p., ISBN: 9076168202).

Reparação (Brazil / Trans. by Paulo Henriques Britto). Companhia das Letras, 2002 (448 p., ISBN: 853590235X).

Lepitus (Estonia / Trans. by Anne Lange). Huma, 2003 (368 p.).

Selected Reviews and Criticism

'A Fiction Triumphant and Tragic', The Times (London), 12 September 2001.

Brookner, Anita. 'A Morbid Procedure', Spectator, 15 September 2001: 44.

McEwan, Ian. 'ATONEMENT: DUNKIRK 1940', The Independent (London), 15 September 2001: 1-2. (Excerpt from the novel.)

Sutcliffe, William. 'A Master's Voice Lost in a Tempest of Composition', Independent on Sunday (London), 16 September 2001: 15.

Winder, Robert. 'Between the Acts', New Statesman, 17 September 2001: 49-50.

'Saying Sorry', Economist, 22 September 2001: 68.

Dyer, Geoff. 'Who's Afraid of Influence?', The Guardian (London), 22 September 2001: 8.

Hermione, Lee. 'If Your Memories Serve You Well ...', The Observer, 23 September 2001.

Macfarlane, Robert. 'A Version of Events', Times Literary Supplement, 5139, 28 September 2001: 23.

Billen, Andrew. 'Tea in the Garden of Good and Evil', Sunday Herald, 30 September 2001: 3.

Gartner, Zsuzsi. 'Nothing to Atone For', The Globe and Mail (Books), October 2001.

Kermode, Frank. 'Point of View', London Review of Books, 23:19, 4 October 2001.

Bouman, Hans. 'Geen boetekleed voor God of de Romanschrijver', de Volkskrant, 5 October 2001.

Smith, Ray. 'Power and Stature', The Gazette (Montreal), 13 October 2001.

Richler, Noah. 'A Spectacular Ian McEwan', National Post, 19 October 2001.

Wiersema, Robert J. 'Fiction Doesn't Get Any Better', Vancouver Sun, 27 October 2001.

Rungren, Lawrence. 'Atonement', Library Journal, 126:19, 15 November 2001: 97.

Seaman, Donna. 'Atonement', Booklist, 98:6, 15 November 2001: 523.

Taitz, Laurice. 'Book of the Week: Atonement', Sunday Times (South Africa), 18 November 2001.

Zaleski, Jeff. 'Atonement', Publishers Weekly, 248:47: 19 November 2001: 45.

Crane, Edythe. 'Disconnect the Phone, Lock the Doors and Wait for the Surprising Ending', Times-Colonist (Victoria BC), 25 November 2001.

'Atonement', Kirkus Reviews, 69:23, 1 December 2001: 1637.

'Atonement', Economist, 22 December 2001: 107.

Eagleton, Terry. 'A Beautiful and Elusive Tale', Lancet, 358:9299, 22-29 December 2001: 2177.

Marchand, Philip. 'A Trick of the Light', The Toronto Star, 23 December 2001.

Kubiacki, Maria. 'In Plain Sight - an Error That Reverberated Through a Lifetime', Ottawa Citizen, 13 January 2002.

Bethune, Brian. 'Look Back in Melancholy', Maclean's, 115:2, 14 January 2002: 45-46.

Gibbons, Fiachra. 'McEwan's Chance to Turn the Tables', The Guardian (London), 21 January 2002: 1.

Messud, Claire. 'The Beauty of the Conjuring', Atlantic Monthly, 289:3, February 2002: 106-109.

Caldwell, Gail. 'Summer and Smoke in the Shadow of War: A young girl's misconception is the hinge of Ian McEwan's masterful Atonement', Boston Globe (Books), March 2002.

Hattori, Noriyuki. 'Fikushon no "tsugunai"', Eigo Seinen/Rising Generation, 147:12, March 2002: 752.

Merkin, Daphne. 'The End of Innocence', Los Angeles Times (Book Review), March 2002.

Messud, Claire. 'The Beauty of the Conjuring', Atlantic Monthly, 289:3, March 2002: 106-109.

Miller, Adrienne. 'Big Important Book of the Month: Atonement', Esquire, 137:3, March 2002: 61.

Richardson, Elaina. 'An Explosive Untruth Sets in Motion Ian McEwan's Un-Put-Downable Atonement', O Magazine, March 2002.

Shone, Tom. 'White Lies', New York Times Book Reviews, March 2002.

Updike, John. 'Flesh on Flesh', The New Yorker, March 2002.

Walton, David. 'Journey into Terror', Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3 March 2002.

Kakutani, Michiko. 'And When She Was Bad She Was...', New York Times, 7 March 2002: E1.

Cheuse, Alan. 'Ian McEwan Adds History to His Motifs of Love, Death', Chicago Tribune, 10 March 2002: 14.

Merkin, Daphne. 'The End of Innocence', Los Angeles Times Book Review, 10 March 2002: 3.

Shone, Tom. 'White Lies', New York Times Book Review, 10 March 2002: 8-9.

Wiegand, David. 'Stumbling Into Fate - Accidents and Choices Trip up the Characters in Ian McEwan's New Novel', San Francisco Chronicle, 10 March 2002.

Wiegand, David. 'Getting Rid of the Ghosts (Q & A: Ian McEwan)', San Francisco Chronicle, 10 March 2002: M2.

Mendelsohn, Daniel. 'Unforgiven', New York Metro (Books), 12 March 2002.

Begley, Adam. 'A Novel of Discrete Parts, Blessedly at One with Itself', New York Observer, 18 March 2002.

Tarloff, Erik and Geraldine Brooks. 'The Book Club', Slate, 18-19 March 2002.

Charles, Ron. 'A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Terror', Christian Science Monitor, 14 March 2002: 19.

Rocca, Francis X. 'Atonement', Wall Street Journal, 239:52, 15 March 2002: W8.

Caldwell, Gail. 'Summer and Smoke in the Shadow of War', Boston Globe, 17 March 2002: E3.

Vidimos, Robin. 'A Separate Penance', Denver Post, 17 March 2002: EE1.

Yardley, Jonathan. 'The Wounds of Love', Washington Post, 17 March 2002: 1.

'Luminous Novel From Dark Master', Newsweek, 139:11, 18 March 2002: 62-63. [Includes interview.]

Mendelsohn, Daniel. 'Unforgiven', New York, 35:9, 18 March 2002: 53.

Yardley, Jonathan. 'Ian McEwan, Arriving on Time', Washington Post, 18 March 2002: C2.

Patterson, Troy. 'Atonement', Entertainment Weekly, 20 March 2002. [Also published on the CNN Website as 'Atonement Is a Soulful Game', 18 March 2002].

Miller, Laura. 'Atonement by Ian McEwan',, 21 March 2002.

Gibbon, Maureen. 'Fiction: Atonement', Star Tribune, 24 March 2002.

Shriver, Lionel. 'Classic Novel Lives On', Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 March 2002.

Wood, James. 'The Trick of Truth', The New Republic, 226:11, 25 March 2002: 28-34.

Lacayo, Richard. 'Twisted Sister', Time, 159:12, 25 March 2002: 70.

Maryles, Daisy. 'A Booker Hooker', Publishers Weekly, 249:12, 25 March 2002: 18.

Papinchak, Robert Allen. 'The Sins of the Child Set 'Atonement' in Motion', USA Today, 26 March 2002: D4.

Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. 'Quests for Redemption', New Leader, 85:2, March-April 2002: 23-25.

Wondolowski, Rupert. 'Atonement', Baltimore City Paper, 3-9 April 2002.

McCay, Mary A.. 'Secrets & Lies', Times - Picayune, 7 April 2002: D7.

Ezard, John. 'McEwan's Novel Wins Prize at Last', The Guardian (London), 10 April 2002: 1.

Lanchester, John. 'The Dangers of Innocence', The New York Review of Books, 49:6, 11 April 2002: 24-26.

Cremins, Robert. 'Coming to Be at One', Houston Chronicle, 19 April 2002: Z19.

Vellucci, Michelle. 'Atonement', People Weekly, 57:15, 22 April 2002: 43.

Gussow, Mel. 'Ian McEwan's Latest Novel Charts an Emotional Journey', New York Times, 23 April 2002: 1.

Lezard, Nicholas. 'Pick of the Week: Nicholas Lezard Has Reservations About McEwan's Masterpiece', The Guardian (London), 27 April 2002: 11.

Boerner, Margaret. 'A Bad End', Weekly Standard, 7:32, 29 April 2002: 43-46.

Wheeler, Edward T.. 'The Lies of Novelists', Commonweal, 129:9, 3 May 2002: 26-28.

'Atonement', Solares Hill, 25:18, 3 May 2002: 14.

Gussow, Mel. 'Atoning for His Past', The Age, 5 May 2002. [Reprinted from the New York Times.]

Locke, Scarth. 'Atonement', Willamette Week, 28:27, 8 May 2002: 76.

Shone, Tom. 'White Lies', New York Times Book Review, 10 May 2002: 7-8.

Houser, Gordon. 'Ripples of Sin', Christian Century, 119:11, 22-29 May 2002: 30-31.

Roberts, Rex. 'Quite Write', Insight on the News, 18:19, 27 May 2002: 25.

Neufeld, Rob. 'McEwan Creates Delicious Drama in Atonement', The Asheville Citizen-Times, 31 May 2002.

Woodcock, Susan H. 'Atonement', School Library Journal, 48:6, June 2002: 172-173.

'It Master: Ian McEwan', Entertainment Weekly, 20 June 2002.

O'Rourke, Meghan. 'Fiction in Review', Yale Review, 90:3, July 2002: 159+.

Park, Ed. 'Atonement', Village Voice, 47:27, 9 July 2002: 40.

Breslin, John B. 'Lies and War', America, 187:2, 15-22 July 2002: 22-23.

Clark, Katherine. 'A Guilty Pleasure: Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' Richly Deserves Best-seller Status', Mobile Register (Alabama), 20 July 2002.

De Vera, Ruel S. 'McEwan's Book of the Unforgiven', Inquirer News Service, 28 July 2002.

Rüedi, Peter. 'So spannend kann Langeweile sein', Die Weltwoche (Zürich), 29 August 2002.

von Lovenberg, Felicitas. 'Vergiftete Zeilen', Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.), 31 August 2002, S. 42, Nr. 202. (Courtesy of F.A.Z.:

Barrett, Daniel. 'The World Just So', Yale Review of Books, 5:3, Summer 2002.

Stefan-Cole, J. 'Atonement--Ian McEwan: A Non-Review', Free Williamsburg, 30, September 2002.

Pralle, Uwe. 'Schuld und Sühne: Ian McEwan hat einen fast perfekten Roman geschrieben', Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Zürich), 8 October 2002: 67. View .pdf version (Courtesy of NZZ Online:

Gurpegui, José Antonio. 'Untitled', EL CULTURAL, 17-23 October 2002.

Bach, Mauricio. 'ENTREVISTA a Ian McEwan, escritor británico, que publica Expiación: "Vivimos entre dos modelos de sociedad sin diálogo posible"', La Vanguardia, 20 October 2002. (Interview)

Compton, Matt. 'Atonement Book Review', The Carolina Beacon, 2:1, 20 October 2002.

Lozano, Antonio. 'Expiación', Que Leer, 70, October 2002.

Lozano, Antonio. 'Un perverso exquisito', Que Leer, 71, November 2002. (Interview)

Bach, Mauricio. 'La niña que arruinó la vida de un hombre', La Vanguardia, 13 November 2002.

Finney, Brian. 'Briony's Stand Against Oblivion: Ian McEwan's Atonement'. Brian Finney's Website, 2002.

Pittau, Martina. 'Nel labirinto della scrittura. Atonement di Ian McEwan', Università di Cagliari, 2001-2002 (relatore Prof.ssa Irene Meloni).

Mullan, John. 'Between the Lines', Guardian, 8 March 2003: 31. [Mullan begins a series of articles on Atonement.]

Mullan, John. 'Looking Forward to the Past', Guardian, 15 March 2003: 32. [Mullan's second article in a series on Atonement.]

Mullan, John. 'Turning up the Heat', Guardian, 22 March 2003: 32. [Mullan's third article in a series on Atonement.]

Mullan, John. 'Beyond Fiction', Guardian, 29 March 2003: 32. [Mullan's fourth article in a series on Atonement.]

Apstein, Barbara. 'Ian McEwan's Atonement and "The Techniques of Mrs. Woolf"', Virginia Woolf Miscellany, 64, Fall-Winter 2003: 11-12.

Finney, Brian. "Briony's Stand against Oblivion: The Making of Fiction in Ian McEwan's Atonement." Journal of Modern Literature, 27:3, Winter 2004: 68-82.

Fraga, Jesús. 'Entrevista: Ian McEwan.' La Voz de Galicia, 6 March 2004: 54 [Interview about Expiación].

Ingersoll, Earl G. 'Intertextuality in L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between and Ian McEwan's Atonement', Forum for Modern Language Studies, 40:3, July 2004: 241-258.

Reynier, Christine. 'La Citation in abstentia à l'ouvre dans Atonement de Ian McEwan', EREA 2.1 (printemps 2004): 61-68. <>

Yata, Keiji. 'Showing Off Damaged Bodies: Ian McEwan's Atonement', Bulletin of Tokyo Kasei University, 45:1, 2005: 49-58. (English)

Hidalgo, Pilar. "Memory and Storytelling in Ian McEwan's Atonement." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 46:2, Winter 2005: 82-91.

Tabakowska, Elzbieta. "Iconicity as a Function of Point of View." Outside-In-Inside-Out: Iconicity in Language and Literature. Eds. Costantino Maeder, Olga Fischer, and William Herlofsky. Amsterdam: Benjamins; 2005. 375-87 [Discusses Atonement].

Léorat, Nicole. 'Surfaces d'inscription et d'effacement dans le récit palimpsestes d'Ian McEwan, Atonement', in: Marie-Odile Salati (ed.). Jeux de surface (Actes de colloque). Chambery: Université de Savoie. 2006. 13-28.

D'Hoker, Elke. "Confession and Atonement in Contemporary Fiction: J. M. Coetzee, John Banville, and Ian McEwan." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 48:1, Fall 2006: 31-43.

Parey, Armelle. 'Ordre et chaos dans Atonement d'Ian McEwan', Cercles, Occasional Paper Series (2007) 93-102. <>

Crosthwaite, Paul. "Speed, War, and Traumatic Affect: Reading Ian McEwan's Atonement." Cultural Politics, 3:1, 2007: 51-70 [Abstract available].

Mathews, Peter. "The Impression of a Deeper Darkness: Ian McEwan's Atonement" English Studies in Canada 32.1 (March 2006): 147-60.

Müller-Wood, Anja. "Enabling Resistance: Teaching Atonement in Germany", in Steven Barfield, Anja Müller-Wood, Philip Tew and Leigh Wilson (eds), Teaching Contemporary British Fiction (Heidelberg: Winter, 2007): 143-58.