by Ian McEwan

atonementIn three beautifully crafted parts, the story starts with a domestic crisis that becomes a crime story; the second part describes the British evacuation at Dunkirk; the third is set in London as the nation mobilizes for war.

Opening paragraph:  The play, for which Briony had designed the posters, programmes and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crepe paper, was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch. When the preparations were complete, she had nothing to do but contemplate her finished draft and wait for the appearance of her cousins from the distant north. There would be time for only one day of rehearsal before her brother arrived. At some moments chilling, at others desperately sad, the play told a tale of the heart whose message, conveyed in a rhyming prologue, was that love which did not build a foundation on good sense was doomed. The reckless passion of the heroine, Arabella, for a wicked foreign count is punished by ill fortune when she contracts cholera during an impetuous dash towards a seaside town with her intended. Deserted by him and nearly everybody else, bed-bound in a garret, she discovers in herself a sense of humour. Fortune presents her a second chance in the form of an impoverished doctor—in fact, a prince in disguise who has elected to work among the needy. Healed by him, Arabella chooses judiciously this time, and is rewarded by reconciliation with her family and a wedding with the medical prince on “a windy sunlit day in spring.”

Quotes from critics:  “This haunting novel, which just failed to win the Booker this year, is at once McEwan at his most closely observed and psychologically penetrating, and his most sweeping and expansive. It is in effect two, or even three, books in one, all masterfully crafted.” (Publishers Weekly); “It is rare for a critic to feel justified in using the word ‘masterpiece,’ but Ian McEwan’s new book really deserves to be called one. . . . Atonement is a work of astonishing depth and humanity. . . . This novel really is worthy of the Booker.” (The Economist); “The narrative, as always with McEwan, smolders with slow-burning menace. The book is magically readable and never has McEwan shown himself to be more in sympathy with the vulnerability of the human heart.” (The Sunday Times)

Bio:  Ian McEwan (1948- ) is an English novelist and screenwriter.  He has been nominated for the Booker prize six times.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Society of Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He has spoken out against extreme Islamism for its views on women and homosexuality, against both the Hamas and Isreali expansion of settlements, and in favor of positive action on climate change.

Award:  Booker prize nomination