Winner of such prestigious honors as the Booker Prize and Whitbread Award, Ian McEwan is justifiably regarded as a modern master. Set in 1972, Sweet Tooth follows Cambridge student Serena Frome, whose intelligence and beauty land her a job with England's intelligence agency, MI5. In an attempt to monitor writers' politics, MI5 tasks Serena with infiltrating the literary circle of author Tom Healy. But soon matters of trust and identity subvert the operation.
©2012 Ian McEwan (P)2012 Random House Audiobooks
Sweet Tooth is a compelling, intriguing listen that grabs hold immediately; from first sentence to last satisfying twist. Like McEwan's excellent book "Atonement," the author's pitch perfect prose unveils a multi-layered story that explores universal human themes of secrecy, loyalty, betrayal and identity.
Set in 1970s London, "rather gorgeous" recent Cambridge grad Serena Frome tells her story with some self awareness and a wry sense of humor. She describes her teen-age self as "the first person to truly understand Orwell's 1984." Recovering from an abrupt break-up, Serena throws herself into a low level job with MI-5. Disenchanted with the mundane nature of the work, Serena quickly agrees to participate in a covert cultural program that funds young writers in an effort to win the "war of ideas" taking place in Cold War Europe. Of course the romantically vulnerable Serena falls for her target, author T.C. Healy, but luckily the ensuing story isn't formulaic or predictable.
As a slavish admirer of LeCarre (well, truth be told my passionate secret affair is really with George Smiley) I reveled in the scenes set at MI-5 headquarters. McEwan's MI-5 was so evocative of "The Circus" that I almost expected Connie Sachs to lumber around the corner, god bless her. Some of the darkness in the story reminded me of John Fowles, as did the novel's unconventional structure. Interesting cameos by real life literati added fun and rang true: Martin Amis buys dejected author Healy a whisky, and Ian Hamilton offers words of wisdom to an agitated Serena.
Experienced actress Juliet Stevenson does a stellar job narrating. I especially enjoyed the way she voiced an American ex-CIA agent. Cringe worthy only because I have a feeling we really do sound like that to the world. She was dead on and a treat to hear.
Finally, the idea of "a contract between a book's author and its reader" is explored in various interesting ways. Afraid of being manipulated or feeling tricked, I steeled myself for disappointing ending. Thankfully, this book's author seems to truly like and respect his reader. Apart from an almost (just a teensy bit) Poirot-like explanatory soliloquy, McEwan keeps his end of the bargain and then some. "Sweet Tooth" is wonderfully thought provoking; the kind of novel you just want to mull over for awhile before beginning anything else.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Structurally complicated with beautiful language McEwan's spy novel flows and ebbs on several levels. He is writing about a woman spying on a writer who is an obvious stand-in for himself. McEwan *almost* pulls this off, but the weight (or forced feint) of the structure almost sinks the novel in the middle.
Essentially, 'Sweet Tooth' is about love, deception, politics and art. It reminds me of earlier post modern novels by Carey (My Life as a Fake), Atwood (Blind Assassin) and Gaddis (Recognitions) where the authors seems to be playing with not just the story but the whole relationship between author, narrator and reader. A good novel, just not a great McEwan novel.
Juliet Stevenson is a real pro, and I always enjoy her narration. In this case she elevates a rather pedestrian story to the point where it was a tolerable listen.
Maybe there comes a point when one has read one too many modern British novels, but I often feel that I have heard the same story one too many times. (Oxbridge graduate smartens up and faces the real world, the real world consisting of spies and bureaucrats.) Yes, this one had a couple of twists and turns, but don't they all?
The stated protagonist of the novel is a woman, and it is nice to encounter one who is as selfish, misguided, and dull as any modern male:) As for the main male literary character, I found him just plain unconvincing, and the denouement of the story reeked of chick-lit (post modern version, of course.)
For me, the most enjoyable parts of the novel were the very witty takes on post-WWII literary figures, most of them named by name.
I enjoyed the performances of the characters.
Loved the twist at the end , not expecting it.
NO, it dragged a bit until the turn in the plot.
I almost gave up on the book until I read a review that wasn't a spoiler but mentioned the twist in the book. Glad I stuck with it!
Every moment of this book is an entirely pleasurable, satisfying and intelligent listen. It was such a quenching experience that it's hard to identify a comparison. From fascinating, complex characters to cold war spy intrigue to sexy swinging London, written in unrelenting gorgeous prose. This isn't a just good story, it's an AMAZING work of literature — and you, dear reader, are implicated in this tale!
Marvelous layers of detail, each one interesting on its own, work together for a fantastic read. I highly recommend it.
. . . And keep me enthralled. Ms. Stevenson narration aside, Ian McEwen's writing is smooth, rich and evocative. The story is set in a time in history, 1970's London, that interests me as a baby boomer. Serena, our Sweet Tooth, is both smart and naive. I cheered her on from beginning to end. I was left wondering how a male author could capture a women's interior so well.
I did not find his main character, Serena Frome, very believable or sympathetic. It is not clear why the main male character is so smitten with her, nor she with him. By the end u learn that the whole story has been a rather elaborate conceit, which makes for a clever twist on the part of the author--but doesn't make me care any more about the characters.
The setting in MI-5 sounds more intriguing than it turns out to be. I would consider that perhaps MacEwan is resting on his laurels, altho I read that this and ATONEMENT are his personal favorites among his novels thus far. I also read that it is being made into a movie--this may be one of those stories that can come to life on the screen in a way that it did not in print.
This audio version also suffered from an uninspired performance by the narrator.
The NPR reviewer, Maureen Corrigan, did a short review on the program Fresh Air that aptly articulated for me my problems with this novel and I recommend it to anyone considering this book.
I haven't read the print book but the audible version was fantastic! The lovely voice of Juliet Stevenson added to the beautiful prose of Ian McEwan... can't think of a better combination. Pure music.
The end. I was prepared to be sad by the ending but now I have hope. Wish he would write a sequel but that would probably be disappointing.
Definitely the female lead. (Already I've lost her name). Sympathetic, empathetic and believable. I would have had a hard time with the decisions too.
4.5 stars. This was my first McEwan novel. I hadn’t realized until I was half way through it that he also wrote Atonement. Which I have not yet read but heard much about since the movie won tons of accolades. When I finished this book I shouted Brilliant and wanted to applaud. It’s definitely not for everyone and I can understand the varying ratings and reviews. It’s a very slow and methodical yet stunning story. You have to be patient with it.
I’m bad at short synopsis but basically Serena begins working at Mi5 in part because of a relationship she had with a married professor. While there she gets assigned an operation with codename Sweet Tooth. This is Mi5’s attempt to fund writers whose political views align with governments. She is tasked with hiring a particular writer she ultimately falls in love with. There are common themes here, for example the oft used girl meets boy under false circumstances, ends up falling in love, boy finds out, girl loses boy and ultimately girl gets boy back. However not the case here. Things don’t play out the way you would think.
No spoilers here but I also thought the item found while she was undercover as a cleaning lady was going to be more substantial than it ultimately was. Though I guess if it did it would become more of a spy novel than what it was intended to be.
I thought the short story writing she reads by Haley was pretty fascinating as well. I know people don’t usually like these sub stories especially when they have no direct impact to the overall book but I love them. They make such an impact for the couple pages they take up. The mannequin?!
The ending chapter was just brilliant though. You finish the book making all kinds of assumptions and having revelations.
I would definitely recommend.
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