Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere.
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a ‘secret mission’ that brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories; then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one.
McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.
©2012 Ian McEwan (P)2012 Random House Audiobooks
A cracker of a listen; I am still thinking about the final chapter. I’m not sure how I developed the opinion that McEwan was inconsistent — probably listening to too many critics and not listening to enough of his work — but this is consistently good writing.
Certainly an absorbing story imbued with period verisimilitude, even some clever twists. However, only a male writer (and dare I say a baby-boomer-age one at that) would write such cringe-inducingly bad sex scenes from the P.O.V. of a young woman. If you could edit those eye-rollingly self-indulgent paragraphs out I'd give it a higher rating. Seriously though McEwan seems to have finished exploring the "privileged middle aged professionals meet at funeral and have angst-ey love triangle" genre and finally got inspired again with something halfway decent.
I'm still undecided whether it was the perfect brilliance of Stevenson's reading that made the story so refreshingly interesting, or indeed the book itself. All I know for sure is that I certainly would not have read the printed version, let alone bought it as I've been so put off McEwan for so long now. The choice of Juliet Stevenson certainly sold this to me so well done clever producers.
Definitely. The story is very good as one listens along, and then, in the final chapter, the entire premise is upended and the reader has to try to regain their perspective on the characters and the events.A 2nd or 3rd listening, having the surprise ending known will make the experience entirely different and, in a new way, just as remarkable.
Immediately prior to listening to Sweet Tooth, I listened to John Le Carre's 'A Perfect Spy'. This is another spy story involving MI5 and its machinations. It also sets the individual into the complexity of a highly regulated secret organisation. And it also has a sting in the tail....But from there the stories diverge. It is the way each one explores similar things and comes up with a variety of scenarios that give the reader an opportunity to think about their own secret lives.
The narrator, as performed by JS, is the star of the book. But who is the narrator? Well. that is the Sting in the Tale.....
Smoke and Mirrors
Once again JS excels in her reading of the book. She is a joy to listen to and characters come to vivid life with her deft touch.Ian McEwan is one of the finest writers in English. Every one of his books is different, yet the astute reader can sense the connections between them. His characters live and his descriptions bring the scene to the reader so well.
By the way - I have used both spellings of tale/tail quite deliberately.
Not a title I would recommend. For spy fans there is no mystery or espionage. Would recommend if you like books with no drama, intrigue.
Add some drama, add some colour to this grey and drab story. Because the rest of the story was so nondescript, he could have added more believable lovers for this supposedly beautiful woman. Old, gay and physically unattractive seemed to be her preferred choice. The story was OK - but a bit Margaret Drabble like (who by the way I finding boring)
Hard to judge with the material she had to work with- yawn.
I really could not get into this story, I did try, really I did, but I would have vetoed the whole book when it first hit my editors desk.
Sometimes it is not about the destination but the journey, this book unfortunately didn't leave the station, you sit on board waiting for the train to move and it never starts. It is hard for me to find a book or genre that I can't get into, but this book despite the good reviews was one I could not get my Sweet Tooth into.
Yes. Great story with fantastic characters and plot.
From start to finish it was enthralling
Everything...so incredibly well read
One of the best stories for 2012!
I loved the narrative voice. The author describes his characters so clearly that you can picture every wrinkle and every pore. His descriptions of London and life within MI5 seemed very real. I wanted to be in that world visiting pubs, strolling around London and the Brighton seafront.
I loved the intrigue and the fact that the ending surprised me. The heroine is being deceitful but I could imagine making the same choices. To me, it was word perfect. No words were wasted and every one was needed. The letter ending the book is just the most beautiful piece of prose.
No. I want to hear more of her audiobooks.
Max. He is not in the story that much but you can feel his influence and presence throughout.
One of the best books I have read in a long time. Only books like Cutting for Stone or The Secret History come close to such evocative descriptions and compelling characters.
First audiobook have listened to; I will now read another
McEwan is such a clever writer and has a marvellous way with words. I found the book intriguing while I listened to it, and felt very satisfied when I had heard the conclusion. I also my eyes where opened to the way MI5 probably works.
Juliet Stevenson takes the part of the narrator and matches her perfectly with just the right accent, age, and expression.
No, I listened to it in my car as I travelled to and from work (a 30 minute trip each way), which was perfect. I did however find myself sitting in the car for a few minutes after I had reached my destination, eager to hear more.
This was my first audiobook and I am sold! I downloaded another the moment this one was finished.
"A great listen"
I don't normally write reviews but i really enjoyed this book. The main character was easily likable. It had a good pace, with gradual build towards a seemingly inevitable disaster that kept me hooked, making me carry on with the cleaning a bit longer to see what happens. A thought provoking plot. Well read too.
After all the media attention and author interviews, I was looking forward to this book as a return to form for Ian McEwan after the mediocre "Solar". There are some nice lines and apt phrasing but the characterisation is fairly shallow, the plot banal, almost a cliche, and the much trailed surprise ending is in effect a bolt-on narrative device that does little to save the novel. It may help to excuse the inadequate realisation of the first person, female narrator, but I think that responsibility lies with McEwan. Compelling, profound and fascinating it is not.
If you want that in a recent novel, try "Waiting For Sunrise" by William Boyd: espionage, duplicity and self deception in a multi-layered novel of real interest. And he is a rattling good story teller.
"Clever mixture of spy novel and literary analysis"
I loved the evocation of the 70s, with the backdrop of the 3-day week and the height of the Troubles. But the book is less about spying and more about writing. The main character's moral dilemma is both convincing in itself and a fine exploration of the nature of honesty. Excellent writing, by turns gripping, moving and philosophical.
"Superbly crafted and exquisitely narrated."
The late sixties early seventies experienced through the lives of interesting, young, bright, well educated characters. Gripping story. The narration by Juliet Stevenson was perfect.
Great story, very well presented and read beautifully. Love Ian McEwan's books, and this one does not disappoint :) will see what other audio books are available..
The long long scenes about books a character has written
This story meanders and crawls on with no real purpose. We are told from the outset that the protagonist gets sacked. And so you wait, and wait for something interesting to happen. You get taken down every dull grey alleyway at a depressing speed. I found it intolerable. I really do not understand why this story was rated so highly.
"Had a bit of sleep in the middle but overall great"
Certainly a book to make you think. More about relationships than a spy novel as I assumed, but really well presented characters. Well worth a listen!
"What a very entertaining book and believable"
I always enjoy an Ian McEwan books and as this was chosen for our book club choice I was very happy
Juliet Stephenson read it well I particularly enjoyed the characters and thought the retelling the life in the 70s was crucial
A great book and sad to have got to the end
"Curved plot saves dodgy characters"
The plot, rather than the characters. Nearly abandoned the book with disinterest in main protagonist until it turned towards the end.
the change in narrative voice of the book [i'm sure theses a literary word for it] which shifts the perspective and makes Tom Haley come over as a most interesting character than the passive, snobbish and thick Serena. [but of course as pretty posh totty he loves her rather than the potentially more interesting Shirley]. I was really curious about the fate of the educated working class woman - such a rare character in life and in novels - but she turned out a stock cockney and went nowhere - a literary device to forward 'real' middle class concerns.
Juliet Stevenson has a wonderful voice and she's great for the nuances of Jane Austen's characters in that narrow upperclass range of accents, but oh that awful stock BBC cockney with its glottal stops [so unlikely in an educated woman working class or not] nearly made me switch off and spoiled a potentially interesting character.
Yes. i listen to audiobooks to send me off to sleep. This one kept me awake esp. towards the end. I will be buying the hardcopy book as its definitely one to re-read [and try to forget Stevenson's cockney] and fill in the bits where i dozed off at the beginning and of course to enjoy McE's prose.
As i can't find many well written novels with educated working-class female characters [we all like to identify with someone like ourselves] i have to make do with the Anita Brookners or blokey campus-type novels. But that aside - Mc Ewan's characters have a psychological truth irrespective of gender and class that keep me coming back - for the time being.
"Really loved this"
I couldn't stop listening, it drew me in so much and was beautifully read. Will have to read and listen to more of his work.
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