What is the setting of Atonement?
The story starts at the Tallis estate in the countryside of England in 1935, shortly before World War II. It is still a time of great class divides, and Cecilia Tallis's love for her childhood friend, Robbie Turner, and his love for her are notable because she is wealthy and he is the son of the housekeeper and from a different social class. Briony, Cecilia's younger sister, misunderstands their relationship and falsely accuses Robbie of rape.
By the second part of the book, the setting has changed to 1940, the beginning of World War II. Robbie, after being released from prison, has joined the British Expeditionary Forces and is fighting in France. He makes his way to Dunkirk, where he is to be evacuated to England. Briony and Cecilia are also in London during this part of the book.
In the last part of the book, Briony is in her late 70s, and it is many years later. She is a famous author during times that are roughly contemporary with the publication of the book in 2001, and she reveals what happened to Cecilia and Robbie during the war many years before.
The story has three distinct settings in which the action occurs. As it opens, we are plunged into the beautiful countryside setting of the Tallis family household in Surrey in 1935. War is looming and its presence is felt even in this tranquil setting. Then we jump to 1941 where we read about war-torn London, where both Cecilia and Briony are working as nurses, and Robby and Cecilia meet briefly once again. Lastly, we move to France and Robby's experience of war, which is of course first-hand, brutal and tragic. We must not of course forget the framing narrative, which ends zooming into the present, with the author, Briony, reflecting on her life as she attends a Tallis family reunion and reveals the true ending of the story she has just told.