I haven't seen the movie, but stopped in my local library last week and picked up a few novels in English, and decided to take this one home. I didn't know anything about it except that it was made into a movie and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001, so I figured it must be good.
I just loved this book. The supsense in the first part of it was nearly unbearable, as you just know something bad is going to happen and the feeling of impending doom is palpable. I actually couldn't sleep the first evening I started it because I kept worrying about what was going to happen, and to whom.
Then the awful sequence of events starts to get underway and I had a sickening premonition of what it would be. And yes, three lives ruined, two families destroyed...and no way back, no way to fix it.
And then the war. Robbie as a soldier trying to get himself evacuated out of northern France, struggling for the landing beaches while suffering from a shrapnel wound in his side. Cecilia and Briony both nurses in military hospitals, with their gruelling work load. At the end a sort of reconciliation, a possibility of atonement...or is it?
The third and last section of the book was devastating: I had to read the fourth-to-last paragraph of the book at least five times before the "reality" of the ending got through to me. The promise of atonement and a life after the war were but a "fictional" account, nothing more.