The tape began to play once more
"I'd like to talk now about your new novel, Atonement, which is coming out in a few days to coincide with your birthday. It's your twenty- first novel..."
Before John could finish the old woman interrupted, informing him that in fact it was to be her last novel. Of course John had not expected this, on the contrary, there had been no discussion as to where the interview would lead but her agent had said nothing about this being her last novel. He bit his lip and continued, hoping that perhaps this information was exclusive.
"Oh, really? You mean you're retiring?"
There was a pause that probably only lasted for a few moments but it was evident that this news had put him slightly off track and before her could reassemble his questions and thoughts Ms Tallis resumed
"My doctor tells me I have something called vascular dementia; which is
essentially a continuous series of tiny strokes. Your brain gradually
closes down. You lose words, you lose your memory: which, for a writer, is pretty much the point. That's why I could finally write this book; and why, of course, it's my last novel. Strangely enough, it would be just as accurate to call it my first novel. I wrote several drafts as far back as my time at St. Thomas's Hospital during the war. I just couldn't ever find the way to do it."
"Because the novel is autobiographical, is that right?" John finally questioned, trying to ignore what the author had just informed not only him but also the viewing audience, she was dying and not only that she had explained in rather a detailed manner the way in which she was to leave this life.
"Yes, entirely. I haven't changed any names, including my own."
"And was that the problem?"
"No. I had for a very long time decided to tell the absolute truth. And I think..." The hesitation was evident in her eyes.
"You've read the book, you'll understand why. I got first-hand accounts of all the events I didn't personally witness, conditions in prison, the evacuation of Dunkirk, everything. But the effect of all this honesty was rather...pitiless, you see. I couldn't any longer imagine what purpose would be served by it."
"By what? By honesty?" He was becoming intrigued now, why did honesty play such a major role in having her story told? She had already atoned with her sibling, was it to teach her readers the morals she wished she had had all those years ago?
"Or reality." Briony replied "Because, in fact, I was too much of a coward to go and see my sister in June, 1940. I never made that journey to Balham. So the scene in which I confess to them is invented, imagined. And, in fact, could never have happened because...Robbie Turner died of septicaemia at Bray Dunes on the first of June 1940, the last day of the evacuation and I was never able to put things
right with my sister Cecilia because she was killed on the 15th
of October, 1940 by the bomb that destroyed the gas and water mains above Balham tube station. So my sister and Robbie never had the time together they both so longed for and deserved, which, ever since, I've...always felt I prevented. But what sense of hope or satisfaction
could a reader derive from an ending like that? So, in the book, I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I'd like to think this wasn't weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness. She thinks for a moment. I gave them their happiness.
The tape paused with the final image of Ms Tallis leaving its evidence upon the television screen.