Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
"She was skeptical, because she knew the tricks the mind could play."
Ian McEwan is a British author, and several of his books have been adapted into films.
In Atonement, a young girl's jealousy creates a scandal that divides two lovers. Shortly thereafter Britain is embroiled in World War II, and the three individuals are distanced from both their respective families and the estate where all three grew up. It is the young girl's attempt to atone for her transgression that gives shape to the narrative, and as the story progresses she comes closer and closer to this goal.
Atonement consists of three parts, with a short epilogue. In the first part, which takes up half the novel's length, the author outlines the events which lead up to the scandal. In the second part, he describes one of the lover's experiences in wartime France. In the third part, he details the young girl's journey to adulthood, and her trials as a nurse serving in London. The epilogue brings the reader into the modern day (or 1999, anyway), and serves as a postscript for the first three sections.
Taken as a whole, I wasn't that impressed by this book. It's the kind of thing that professional book critics gush over, and the kind of novel prominently displayed (and promoted) in the New Releases section of the local bookstore. It is, in other words, the kind of book you're supposed to like, regardless of whether it's really good or not. It's not by any means terrible, but it's less an organic whole than a book stitched together from disparate parts.
This said, the second and third sections are actually quite good. It's just a shame that the first section is so tedious, and resembles a kind of warmed-over Jane Austen. And given that this first section forms the spine of the book, it's hard to overlook it in favor of the much shorter sections which follow. This is really too bad, because the third section, which describes Briony's time as a nurse, is very good.
Given that Atonement is Ian McEwan's most celebrated novel, I doubt that I'll be delving into his bibliography again anytime soon. I've had enough of books featuring Britons lost in their own internal monologues, and the story behind Atonement, in the hands of another author, could have been so much more than that.