Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002

Atonement by Ian McEwan

The year's indisputable masterpiece. At an English country house in the 1930s, a self-regarding 13-year-old with a budding writer's powers of invention witnesses a romantic scene that she does not understand, then tells a lie with terrible consequences for the people around her. Virginia Woolf would have admired the way McEwan observes how the mind operates upon the world, how misunderstanding is a form of understanding. Then in the final pages he performs a bewitching narrative sleight of hand that deepens everything that came before. A book that persuades you on every page of the power of the imagination to transfigure, to console, to destroy and to create — above all to create fictions as magnificent as this one.