Briony is narrating thisafterward in first person. She says that it is her 77th birthday. Happy
She decides to go to the
Keeper of Documents to donate some letters from Mr. Nettle—presumably the same
corporal Robbie traveled with during the war.
The doctor has informed
her that she has vascular dementia and will lose her memory over the next
couple of years. Her mind will go and then she will die.
Weirdly, Briony isn't
sad, but excited, and feels she must tell all her friends.
She takes a cab across
town, passing the house where her father lived after his second marriage and
the house where Leon nursed his second wife and raised his children.
She notes that in her
account of her time as a nurse, she merged experiences at three different hospitals
into one. She notes that this was one of her more minor deviations from the
truth. Good to know…
When she gets out of the
cab, she sees Lord Marshall and Lady Marshall (a.k.a. Paul and Lola) leaving
the museum to get into their Rolls Royce.
Though Paul looks frail,
she realizes that Lola is still very healthy. With her diagnosis, Lola will
That Lola will outlive
Briony means that Briony won't see her book published in her own lifetime.
Instead, at the urging of her editor, she'll wait to have it published after
Off to the Keeper of
Documents Briony goes, where she looks at notes provided by an old colonel. He
suggests several changes. All the changes refer to passages in the novel (it's
a kind of puzzle to figure out where they're from exactly… if you enjoy that
sort of thing).
Back at home, Briony
packs for a trip.
She mentions a
photograph taken in Marseille of her husband, Thierry, who is dead now.
While waiting for her
cab to arrive, Briony considers Lola further, marveling at how the woman will
outlive her and again noting that she won't be able to publish during her
The cab arrives and,
when it stops, it lets Briony out at her childhood home.
The house is a hotel
now, and Briony is given Auntie Venus's old room, the same room Paul Marshall
stayed in during his fated visit.
grandson, calls to say he will come by in a bit to take her down to the party.
In the ballroom, Charles
takes Briony around. She sees Leon and Pierrot and other relatives. The party
is for Briony and she seems to enjoy the warmth with which everyone greets her.
Children perform The Trials of
Arabella, the play Briony was
writing at the beginning of the novel back when she was thirteen, and Briony is
pretty thrilled if mildly critical of her young self.
Pierrot dissolves into
tears. Briony wonders if he is remembering his parents' divorce, or his
long-dead brother, or some combination of the two and the disappointment he
shared with his brother when the play was canceled all those years ago.
The party over, Briony
returns to her room. She says that her manuscript—which we've just
read—includes real names and dates. The Marshalls will certainly sue so long as
they are alive, so no one will publish it until after their death.
Briony says that in
earlier drafts her lovers died, but that now she does not see the point in
killing them anymore.
In earlier drafts,
Briony wrote the truth: Robbie Turner died of an infection while waiting for
evacuation from Dunkirk, and Cecilia died in September of that year when
Germans bombed the Balham Underground station.
Also in earlier drafts,
Briony turned back toward the hospital before going to meet her sister, who was
Briony thinks that there
is no way for novelists to achieve atonement. They are like God—in total
command and with no one above them to offer forgiveness. The point of Briony's
atonement, then, is that she tried to make up for her sins, not that she succeeded
in doing so.
She imagines Robbie and
Cecilia alive and watching The Trials of Arabella with her that evening in the library, and then
she goes to sleep.