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Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Sweet Tooth" by Ian McEwan ~ Dazzling Novel of the Cold War


In this stunning new novel, Ian McEwan’s first female protagonist since Atonement is about to learn that espionage is the ultimate seduction.
Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”

Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.

Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self.

Published by:  Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Pages:  320
Genre:  Fiction
Author:  Ian McEwan
Find out more about the book:  http://ianmcewan.com


IAN McEWAN is the bestselling author of fourteen books, including the novels Solar; On Chesil Beach; Saturday; Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He lives in England.

Ian McEwan reads an excerpt:



In all seriousness this was a mixed bag book for me.  I feel quite embarrassed to be saying so given the profusion of accolades and awards Mr. McEwan has to recommend him.  But, this book was one I had great expectations for, and found very boring and lagging in bits.  Suffice it to say it won the day in the end, and that's what makes it the exceptional novel it is.  Worthy of a read and highly recommended with reservations.

The story of Serena is an interesting one.  She's a lost soul who has been thrust for all intents and purposes into a life's work and, thus, a life-style that her parents wanted for her...not one she chose for herself.  That alone is a sign of the times in the 1970's for women.  I particularly loved how McEwan treated the angst and accomplishments of Serena both psychologically and emotionally throughout the novel.  She is a great heroine.  Her love of books and reading gave a level of fun and levity to the story and kept me wanting to compare what was going on in her life to the choices of reading she was making.  She is, however, somewhat a tragic figure in that she was not allowed to reach her personal potential.

Serena's men friends were complex and pitiful at the same time.  They represented, to me, the worst in man's emotional stunted growth. Physically, they seemed unattractive. What redeemed them was their intelligence and their love of Serena. It's a wonder Serena had any interest at all in them, and I believe the author tells us in many ways she had to force herself to get to a point of finding them "lovable."  This was often the fate of women suppressed in earlier decades and centuries!  It was a farce playing out, of sorts.  I frankly would have trashed all of them for various reasons, but they made the book pour on and I bought it.

I have to say that I read more than I often wanted to.  I found much of the material boring and wordy.  Much could have been condensed in my opinion having to do with the secret service and some aspects of Serena's life.  I held on because of who the author is, and because I was expecting to hit the explosive highlights and resolution in the end, and needed the information that would get me there.  Does that make sense?  I knew that McEwan was going to give me a final answer to it all.  An ending that would have me on my knees and weeping.

This is a novel most particularly for fans of McEwan, I think.  I love his work in general and was willing to wade through the wordiness to get to the heart of the matter, but many may not want to.  He is often banal.  He's a snob of the intellectual sort.  His scarcasm can be cutting as he disguises it for jest. You either love him or not.  His reputation is what made me choose to read the book.

I think I've given enough information to let you make a choice here except to tell you I was moved at the end of the book.  The resolution was worth the wait.

4 stars                  Deborah/TheBookishDame



Thanks for such an honest review. I've been wondering about this book. I loved Atonement, but wasn't sure about Sweet Tooth.


I read one of McEwan's books years ago and kind of felt the same way. The book dragged a little at first and then it really picked up for me but ultimately I was let down by the ending.


Thanks for the support, you two. This was a difficult one given his awards and recognitions!

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