Ian McEwan, Atonement
Ian McEwan's magnificent Atonement has been reviewed, analyzed and discussed to such an extent that I'm not sure how much I can add to the proceedings, other than to express my great admiration for the book and considerable awe for McEwan's accomplishment.
There's just so much here that I enjoy: a small story told thoroughly and in meticulous detail, the realistic and sympathetic characters, the poignant plight of the fading English gentry on the brink of World War II. And the writer in me truly admires the book's structure: the layered, overlapping narratives of the first section, which show how different characters view the same series of events and subtly suggest that truth isn't concrete but instead a matter of perception; the bluntly harrowing, riveting plot of the second section, as Robbie retreats along a narrow, exposed road in northern France toward the English Channel with the rest of Britain's troops and assorted civilian refugees; and the only slightly less harrowing third section which describes Briony's experience as a nurse trainee in London just before the Blitz. But what is particularly marvelous is the brief final section which puts all of the prior narrative into context even as it questions truth versus fiction as well as an author's responsibility to a book's characters; the final section is a twist that I never saw coming, one which completely shifts the meaning of the previous 325 pages. A masterful trick, but also an honest and effective one which presents McEwan, one of our very best novelists, at the height of his writerly powers.