Study Guide

Atonement Chapter 5

By Ian McEwan

Chapter 5

  • Briony gives up on play rehearsals by just quietly walking out. And by quiet we mean that her cousins don't even notice. Directors… they're a temperamental bunch.
  • The cousins are aimless and bored, uncomfortable in the house and generally unsure about how to amuse themselves. Eventually they end up back in the nursery where the twins begin to cry about being away from home.
  • Jackson mentions the word divorce, and Lola reprimands him. Apparently this is the first time any of them has spoken the word, and it's not clear whether they actually know what it means.
  • Along comes boring Paul Marshall. He introduces himself to everyone before mentioning that he's seen the cousins' parents in the paper, which Lola reprimands him for mentioning in front of the twins. Whatever is going on with Jackson and Pierrot's parents, it's clearly quite the scandal.
  • We flash back a few moments to Paul's experience between drinks with Leon and Cecilia and this moment in the nursery. Apparently the drinks made him a little drowsy so he lay down on his bed and closed his eyes for a few moments. He drifted to sleep, though, and had a slightly erotic dream about his four younger sisters (yes—you read that sentence right).
  • When he awoke, he was aroused and heard the twins and Lola talking in the nursery. Thinking it was their voices that prompted his dream, he made his way down the hall to see them.
  • Which brings us right back to the present moment in the nursery and Paul noticing that Lola isn't such a child after all. In fact, she's almost a woman. Almost.
  • He compliments Lola on her clothes and they make some small talk about Hamlet before she compliments him on his shoes.
  • Pierrot announces that he's hungry which somehow creates rooms in the conversation for Paul to tell Lola that she reminds him of her favorite sister. This probably isn't creepy in its own right, but given the dream we know Paul just had it takes on a different tone.
  • Paul offers chocolate to her and the twins because, you know, he's the chocolate guy. The twins are skeptical that soldiers will really want Marshall's chocolate, so only Lola gets a bar.
  • That's right—not only is Paul super dull, he's also the kind of guy who is willing to be spiteful to nine-year-olds. And the kind of guy who can turn watching a girl eat a chocolate bar into a pretty pervy exchange, which is exactly what he does next.
  • Betty, the cook, calls to get Jackson and Pierrot ready for bed.