Ian McEwan's remarkable new novel Atonement is a love story, a war story and a story about the destructive powers of the imagination...It is, in short, a tour de force … The novel, supposedly a narrative constructed by one of the characters, stands as a sophisticated rumination on the hazards of fantasy and the chasm between reality and art … There is nothing self-conscious or mannered about Mr. McEwan's writing. Indeed Atonement emerges as the author's most deeply felt novel yet – a novel that takes the glittering narrative pyrotechnics perfected in his last book, Amsterdam, and employs them in the service of a larger, tragic vision.
It is certainly his finest and most complex novel. It represents a new era in McEwan’s work, and this revolution is achieved in two interesting ways. First, McEwan has loosened the golden ropes that have made his fiction feel so impressively imprisoned...and second, McEwan uses his new novel to comment on precisely the kind of fiction that he himself has tended to produce in the past … I doubt that any English writer has conveyed quite as powerfully the bewilderments and the humiliations of this episode in World War II. After more than twenty years of writing with care and control, McEwan’s anxious, disciplined richness of style finally expands to meet its subject … Atonement ends with a devastating twist, a piece of information that changes our sense of everything we have just read….This twist, this revelation, further emphasizes the novel’s already explicit ambivalence about being a novel, and makes the book a proper postmodern artifact, wearing its doubts on its sleeve, on the outside, as the Pompidou does its escalators.
Here is McEwan, at the helm of what looks suspiciously like the sort of English novel – irises in full bloom, young lovers following suit – that English novelists stopped writing more than 30 years ago. Gradually, though, a familiar disquiet begins to settle over the novel like dust … McEwan seems instinctively to have found a perfect fictional equivalent for the ways and workings of trauma – for its blind spots and sneaky obliquities … If it's plot, suspense and a Bergsonian sensitivity to the intricacies of individual consciousnesses you want, then McEwan is your man and Atonement your novel.