Wyoming County Reads kicked off its 16th year last week with a discussion of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement.”
Each year, the Tunkhannock Public Library and the Dietrich Theater collaboratively promote reading by choosing books for county residents to read, then showing their film adaptations.
Longtime discussion facilitator Bill Chapla suggested McEwan this year, comparing the author’s prose to poetry. The next discussion will focus on McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach,” this year’s other pick for Wyoming County Reads.
“You totally get absorbed into the world of the book that he creates,” Chapla said.
“Atonement” is unique in that it’s metafiction, or “fiction within fiction,” he said.
“There’s a story within a story and you are always on your toes reading this because you never know when the character is writing or when the author is writing,” Chapla said.
“Atonement” tells the story of 13-year-old Briony, a girl from an upper class family with a gift for writing living in pre-World War II England.
Due to her immaturity and lack of understanding of the adult world, she makes incorrect judgments about a relationship between her sister Cecelia and their housekeeper’s son Robbie.
Later, when Briony witnesses her cousin Lola being raped, she accuses Robbie despite being unable to see the attacker and ultimately ruins his life.
As the title suggests, Briony spends her life attempting to atone for her mistake.
Readers at the discussion agreed that Robbie is justified in being unforgiving to Briony, not only because of the major consequences of her actions, but how long she let it go on.
Hildy Morgan said she could only imagine Robbie recovering if he got to live his life how he wanted. Instead, he spent years in prison, only to be released to fight in the war.
However, the readers noted that Briony isn’t a true villain, as society is partially to blame.
In this time period, there was no sexual education, and women lived sheltered lives, staying typically virgins until marriage, Morgan pointed out.
Alice Strauss said when Briony witnessed encounters between Cecelia and Robbie, she had no frame of reference, leading her to believe they were aggressive and non consensual.
Additionally, Sandy Vieczorek said if Briony came forward and changed her story, it’s unlikely that people would have believed her.
Pointing out the book’s theme of classism, Morgan said Robbie’s rejection was based on his working class status, but Briony’s rejection would have been based on her gender.
In the end, readers learn that Briony, now age 77, is the author of the story, writing it as a final effort to atone for her sins.
Many were also in agreement that in the end, Briony is unable to atone for her sins.
“They can be forgiven, I’m not sure if they can be atoned for,” Morgan said.
Wyoming County Reads has a dedicated following each year, with some readers who come and go.
“It’s a wonderful thing for the community because it’s more of a social event and the informality of it is not intimidating at all,” Chapla said. “It’s people reading a book and expressing their thoughts in regard to that book and what could be better.”
The Dietrich presents the film adaptation of “Atonement” today at 1 and 7 p.m., free of charge.
Chapla encouraged readers to look for the director’s hints at the story being metafiction, including typewriter clicking sounds blended into the soundtrack, as well as how the director conveys shifting points of view.
The library hosts a book discussion for “On Chesil Beach” on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m., followed by the film showing at the Dietrich on Feb. 26 at 1 and 7 p.m.
Since starting the “Two Books, Two Movies” theme for Wyoming County Reads, Chapla believes this is the first time they have selected two books by the same author.
This allows readers to get a bigger taste of McEwan’s writing style, but also shows the progression of the actress Saoirse Ronan, who stars in both films.
“I think it’s nice to get the totality of the book, what the author wanted, and then see what the filmmaker puts on the screen, or has to delete from the screen because of time,” he said.
Chapla will close Wyoming County Reads on March 4 by facilitating a discussion comparing the books and films at 7 p.m. in the library.