Books like.... Atonement

So, I’m in need of a book and looking for inspiration.

One of my all time favourites is Atonement by Ian McEwan - it includes most of my favourite things… period drama, hot summers in early 20th Century Europe, family sagas, the foreboding of World War hanging in the air…

Does anyone have any recommendations? Or anything else for a beach read would be gratefully received.

I also love Atonement. Here are a few suggestions that you might like.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Or just about anything Kate Atkinson has written.

Anything at all that Sarah Waters has written. Fingersmith is my favorite (Victorian setting, intricate narrative, many references and homages to 19th century literature), but all her novels are brilliant. The Paying Guests (set in the 1920s) is the one I have liked best of her more recent works.

This may be a bit of a long shot but have you ever read the Flambards books by K.M. Peyton? They were originally written for (or at least marketed to) the young adult crowd, and I first read them as a teenager. But I recently reread the first book in the series and I found it held up extremely well.

‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard has all those ingredients. For real pre WW2 dread in less posh surroundings though you should read some George Orwell novels from that time, like ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’.

‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ by Anthony Powell is a 12 volume series which has all those ingredients and far more. Volumes 7-9 cover WW2 from the point of view of an officer who stayed in the UK for most of the war in amazing detail, though you should read the earlier volumes first. There’s a fair bit of pre WW1 stuff from a child’s point of view as well, but the first 6 volumes aren’t entirely chronological.

‘A Stranger’s Child’ by Alan Hollinghurst meets these criteria to some extent - important sections are set before and after WW1 though most of the story is after WW2.

It was actually ‘Coming up for Air’ by Orwell that I was thinking about with regard to pre-WW2 dread.

I think you’re Scottish aren’t you, San Vito? If you’d like to read entertaining accounts of slightly bohemian lower-upper-middle class life in Glasgow before WW1, you should read ‘Open the Door’ or ‘The Camomile’ by Catherine Carswell.

I’ll second chaika on Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It’s excellent, and is about an Englishwoman who has multiple lives and begins to dimly remember, and learn from, her earlier ones. Quite a bit of it is set before and during WWII.

And by all means see the movie based on Atonement. The one-shot scene on the Dunkirk beaches is awe-inspiring.

I’ll recommend “Dancing At The Rascal Fair” by Ivan Doig. The story of two friends who emigrate from Scotland to homestead in Montana in the 1880’s. It follows them through WWI and has a lot of period detail about life in small-town America during that period. It is also an examination of all the many varieties of love and their effects on people. Doig writes in a wonderful, lyrical style which brings out the scottish brogue of the narrator without shoving it in the reader’s face with a lot of “och’s” and “nae’s” as so many writers do.

If you’re open to the medieval period, I’ll suggest “The Sheriff of Nottingham” by Richard Kluger. Yes, this is THAT Sheriff, but rather than evil, Kluger portrays him as a tortured hero, the one scrupulously honest man in a corrupt kingdom. Again, tons of detail about what daily life was like back then at all levels of society from the lowliest serf to King John himself. Kluger is a professional historian so he knows what he writes about.

Both of these are books I will reread every few years, because they are just so well-written.

Ken Follett’s WWII books – particularly Jackdaws, Hornet Flight, and Eye of the Needle fit the OP’s parameters. Eye of the Needle in particular is excellent. Probably one of the best bread-and-butter novels I’ve ever read.

It was also made into a great movie starring, IIRC, Donald Sutherland.

Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

Follett’s Eye of the Needle is indeed a great book, but I thought the OP wanted fiction set before the war.

If I may, though, I’d say the best British novel about WWII is Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea, about Royal Navy corvette sailors on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. By turns exciting, scary, funny, romantic and heartbreaking - really a great book.

No, I’m English, but certainly not averse to reading something set in Scotland!

Pat Barker’s books come to mind. Even though they are actually set during WWI.

Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing Of The Dog has most of the elements you cited, albeit in the context of a time-travelling comedy of manners (so the tone is quite different).

Well, if we’re recommending stuff set in Scotland in the Thirties (or is it the Twenties?), then there is always the crème de la crème

Weekend at Angus’s?