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!
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.
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.
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.
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