Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth
Ian McEwan
3.5 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentences
"My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. I didn't return safely."
Publisher's Description:
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.

Dear Reader,

Whoah, Ian McEwan. Whoah. This was my first McEwan book, and while this should come as no surprise, he really is the master of the twist ending! I did NOT see that one coming. I should have known, because while I haven't yet read or watched Atonement, I know the general plot and I have heard quite a bit about how much of a surprise the ending was. But, I guess I am glad I went into this book "blind" to the author's prowess in this sense; I just was thrown for such a loop!

I don't recall even knowing much about this book going into it, aside from "female spy," which of course intrigued me. And of course the author; even though this is the first book I've read of his, I knew he was a master story weaver. And, he didn't disappoint - this was an epic which spanned Serena's college years through her young adulthood, and the reader watched her grow up through some very rough times. I think I would have enjoyed the book more had I understood more of the politics behind the Sweet Tooth operation, but I enjoyed it quite a bit even though I wasn't quite familiar enough with all of what was going on regarding Communism in the U.K. in the early 1970s.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the protagonist; she was quite selfish and somewhat boring, really. And she seemed to choose the men she got involved with in order to spite others, it felt. I never quite believed her love affair with Tom. But, ultimately, it had to be believed as strong enough for the story to unfold the way it did. Despite all of my hangups about the awful, er, character of almost all of the characters, I really did enjoy the complex people that McEwan revealed in his writing. From what I've seen, too, this isn't his best work, so I am glad I enjoyed his writing style - I am encouraged to try others of his books, and am looking forward to doing so!


Sweet Tooth

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  1. We read this book in a writing class, and no one else liked it but me - I thought it was great! I had to reread the twist twice because I was so surprised, and immediately started rethinking the WHOLE book, and the depiction of the character of Serena, since she was, er, trying not to spoil... not presented as wholly herself as one originally would have thought. I think that gave her more sympathy for me.

  2. For a writing class! I don't know if I would ever have thought to choose this book specifically for that. Interesting choice! I totally get the controversy over it, although I hope nobody disagreed that he is an excellent writer - just that the story had its interesting points. You do make a good argument - that Serena kind of had to hold back. Makes me rethink my take on her...thank you for bringing that up!

  3. Definitely no argument on his writing ability - there were so many examples of craft technique the teacher was able to mine. I learned a lot about close reading as a writer from it (made me love it even more).


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