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
Clever, empathetic and intriguing
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes- they are both brilliantly observed memoirs that utterly capture the essence of youth and early love affairs. Sweet Tooth is, however, vastly superior in my opinion with a more interesting story.
The ending is superb.
I couldn't/ wouldn't.
Great narration and delivery and a thoroughly enjoying listen. Just the right length, tense, taught and interesting.
Yes, absolutely! Beautiful read and well-wriiten, it drove me into an almost trance-like hazy. The world so realistically sculptured by both Ian and Juliet, I began to feel like I came home to the story at the end of the day.
The ending was one of those, "oh my word, did I hear that right?" moments. Rarely do plots surprise me, this one did and for that I am grateful
Yes, she is one voice that neither intrudes on the story nor fails to instil the necessary emotion - she is the perfect balance
Fabulous book from a great author, exquisitely read!
It starts off as an interesting promise of a story of literature and espionage, just as the blurbs advertise. Halfway through you realize it's neither; it's really a story of relationships (one in particular) and the power games that go into them. Which might be interesting in itself, if it weren't, well, not very interesting. A character who's not particularly bright falls for a character who's utterly unlikable. Then half the book is spent waiting for something terrible to happen, some major disgrace that is mentioned at the beginning. Then the book ends.
I, for one, though I liked other books by McEwan, found it difficult to be interested in these characters and felt cheated in many promises, of plot or depth, that they can't fulfill. I did find it easy to read through (listen to, in fact) to the end. But it should advertise as an intelligent soapy story incidentally set within MI5.
Ian McEwan is one of the most intelligent, sophisticated, and enthralling authors of our lifetime. If you have read or listened through any of his previous masterpieces like "Solar", "Amsterdam", "Enduring Love" or "Saturday", then you know (partially) what to expect, though each novel definitely has its very definite style, theme and twist. No "production line" or "template" approach with this author!
"Sweet Tooth" is a tale around Serena Frome - her university years (studying mathematics, but with more of a passion for literature), her entrance into the UK Secret Service MI5, and the tale of her first big assignment in MI5: recruiting author Tom Haley (through a charity type setup) to write a novel promoting freedom of speech and providing a counterweight against communist/socialist novelists.
"Sweet Tooth" is a celebration of literature, science, and love. I enjoyed the way it is crafted, with many "stories in a story" (Serena reading the short stories that Tom has written). Very, very cleverly done. An excellent representation of the 1970s Cold War environment.
I strongly recommend this book, both for readers/listeners who try Ian McEwan for the first time, as well as his long-time fans!
Definitely. I have already recommended it to several friends.
Serena's character was very well portrayed as I could relate to how women were treated in the seventies. I was amazed that a male could write so well from a woman's point of view.
The final scene in which Serena sits down and reads the letter.
Serena's reaction in the final meeting with her superiors - great character descriptions and portrayal of emotions.
This is definitely Ian McEwan's best novel. Many modern writers create insipid, extraneous characters to offset the villains from a particular country or ethnicity in order to accommodate our politically correct world, but it rarely works for me. Fortunately, McEwan hasn't succumbed to this yet.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
I am a fan of Ian McEwan's works, but you wouldn't know that from the title to this review. I loved Amsterdam and Atonement, of course. However, I regret to write that title is unfortunately accurate.
I have been resisting the steadily increasing number of my friends who also liked Atonement, but who are now complaining about the quality of recent works (Saturday and Solar, for example). To them, I have staunchly defended McEwan's wit, intelligence and style. Alas, I can't manage that defence for Sweet Tooth.
Having said that, this is not a "bad" book; it's just not up to McEwan standard. The language is still good and his trademark character introspection is still there. However, the story is just plain bland. I disagree with those reviews that thought the "twist" was surprising. McEwan tried to give it away in the second Chapter and, by mid way through the book when he extemporises the evil of an unscrupulous ending, it is plain that is not what was going to happen here. By Chapter 19 (of 22) the "twist" was so obvious I could barely be bothered to listen to the last two Chapters. For all that, I won't give the ending away, except to say that the publishers' blurb is all you need to know about the plot. Those who care to listen can judge for themselves.
As for the lovely Juliet Stevenson, she gives a wasted, but accomplished performance, as one would expect. The truth is that I was reluctant to pick up this book because of the last few from McEwan, but the narrator's credentials convinced me otherwise. She at least, was not a disappointment.
A fair review would give this 2.5 stars overall, but because I can't do that, I've rounded it up, for old times sake.
If it wasn't an Ian McEwan book, I would never have finished reading. It's a tidies, uninteresting story, that moves slowly and uncharmigly through the motions of an annoying, grey, 3rd grade secratery in MI5 (don't late the name of the organization fool you - it's still boring) and her contact with a new novelist (more interesting character, but very shelowly explored). The whole thing feels almost as if McEwan wants to create a frame for some short stories, which are probably the only great thing in the book.
Just because I know McEwan, I knew there will be a twist at the end, and curious to know what he has come up this time, I hang in there. We'll let me tell you that: the finale is also disappointing.
If you are a great McEwan fan like me, you will forgive him for this book, but I really think it's not worth spending any time on it.
The cover promises a novel of excitement and intrigue but the whole thing was as grey as the depressing London streets McEwan kept going on about. The whole concept seemed far fetched and sketchy at best (a great waste of tax payers dollars if you ask me). Serena was incredibly boring and wishy washy, by the end of the book I grew to hate her and wished that the twist I was waiting for was that someone would shoot her.I love Juliet Stevenson but even her great talent couldn't make Serena interesting. Don't waste a credit.
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.
"A splendid book"
From the very beginning I was drawn into this book not least because of Juliet Stevenson's lovely voice. It's a mutli-layered narrative set in the early 70s with a backdrop of the three-day week, strikes and political upheaval, MI5 operations but in the forefront are the human relationships. The characters spring to life and I wanted to know what happens to them. I was sorry when the book ended.
"McEwan Takes Us Back To The Seventies"
I enjoyed this book, the experience made more pleasurable by Juliet Stevenson's brilliant narration.
I think that although McEwan's best work may be behind him, for me - at least - he remains Britain's best contemporary writer.
The ending is typical McEwan, and the build-up is expertly managed, as one would expect. At the end of Solar (am I the only person who enjoyed this book?) there is a half-hour interview with McEwan. It is a pity this book lacks the same as a lot of Sweet Tooth is clearly autobiographical.
For older folks (like me) this book perfectly evokes the early 1970s. For younger readers (listeners), it will read like a nice little historical drama.
A beautifully written (and read), character-led book. Sometimes male authors writing from a female character's viewpoint leave me unconvinced. This was perfect. I was left smiling and wondering what happened next to the characters. The background - the places and the 1970s politics were very evocative too. The best book I've read this year for sure.
"A great listen"
I have read every Ian McEwan book and have only been disappointed once (Solar). This book is Ian McEwan on top form. Loved the storyline, the characters, the narration by Juliet Stevenson. Would recommend it.
"Power and deception in all its flavours."
We exercise soft power in the most mundane of acts in our lives with our children, with our lovers, at work and our friends. We deceive and are deceived with small white lies, big omissions and outright deception, the manipulation and manoeuvring never really stops it is why we care about the Joneses and why the Joneses care about what we do; they are the level the measure of our and their success. Countries do the same, and no areas of society are exempt, specially what is the soft power. The Beatles created more dissidents in the Soviet Union than any political manoeuvre could, and the soviets expended billions in developing athletes to demonstrate their physical superiority; one was a fluke of history the other a planned strategy. This book is about that dance de personal and the global. Men and women fight their sexual war, and countries strategies perception by the masses, both fields use deception, lies and manipulation and sometimes we get what we asked for, sometimes we miscalculate how the smaller game affects the larger game or vice versa.
The cold war and the struggles of the period are an excellent tableau to set this story in motion. Ian McEwan makes a well thought well executed plot shine in ways few could, excellent and twisted like humanity.
The reading was good and measured.
"Brilliant - my book of the year"
This is a brilliantly constructed novel and really well narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Give yourself a treat and download it !
"Like Chinese boxes"
Like 1Q84, this is a *clever* book that runs circles around its readers. And like with 1Q84, the writer pulls it off because he is so incredibly good at just that - writing. Ian McEwan really is one of my favourite authors and Saturday is among my all time favourite books (strangely, I notice that it gets rather poor reviews on Amazon - I really have no idea why!).
It's interesting with a book that takes place in the 70s - can't remember when I last read a book from that decade! Ice cold war, the Yom Kippur war, oil crisis, mine-workers' strikes, the Troubles at an all time high - there really does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel! And then the protagonist works for MI5 without the novel being any kind of spy novel. It's a novel about growing up, facing up to choices made very early in life, literature and politics in a very McEwanesk mix.
The narrator has just the right upperclass British intonation - she's very good.
This is an evocative book, sensitive to women's developing freedoms to work and live in the 1970s, brilliantly voiced by the excellent Juliet Stevenson. As an earlier reviewer notes Ian McEwan makes a convincing use of the female voice. I never get time to read new fiction, and this is a very nice way of receiving the story. Recommend.
"Meets expectations beautifully"
Lovely story, beautifully read. Great ending.
Everything you'd expect from McEwan and Stevenson - the words and tone fit together perfectly.
This book is so thoroughly satisfying & the performance by Juliet Stevenson is quite brilliant.
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