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Sweet Tooth: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: One of McEwan's finest female characters, Serena Frome--"rhymes with plume," the author tells us in the opening line--is both clever and beautiful, a speed-reading lit geek and a math whiz, a 1970s version of the Harvard MBA types who launch life-changing Internet startups. But in the dark and troubled Cold War days in London, there were few options for bright young women. So when a mysterious lover recruits her for the British intelligence service, MI5, Serena throws herself body and soul into an undercover operation code-named Sweet Tooth. What unfolds is a mystery, a romance, and a dazzling display of literary workmanship. Though the action slows to a crawl at times, McEwan is a brilliant and entertaining storyteller whose lines--sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes wickedly wise--had me reaching for my highlighter. --Neal Thompson

From Booklist

*Starred Review* McEwan’s attentive audience can never anticipate what his next novel will be about, but because his fans know that any McEwan book will offer a wildly creative plot carried by complex characters and an elegant yet ironically muted writing style, they are willing, whenever a new novel appears, to go with the author wherever—historically and psychologically—he leads. This time that place is the spy world of British intelligence in the early 1970s. (Remember, although WWII is over, the Cold War is definitely not.) With grace, assurance, and credibility, McEwan assumes a female persona in this first-person remembrance, narrated from the vantage of 40 years later. Serena Frome is a smart, attractive, Cambridge-educated young woman who is recruited by her older lover for the MI5 intelligence agency. She is slotted into a secret program called “Sweet Tooth,” designed to cultivate writers likely to produce novels ideologically in tune with the government. Spydom is, of course, fraught with betrayal, and Serena is not immune to that common pitfall. McEwan readers can rest assured that, in common with its predecessors, this novel has a greatly compelling story line braced by the author’s formidable wisdom about—well, the world. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Promotion strategies listed for McEwan’s new book are expectedly wide-ranging, including, of course, national media appearances for him. --Brad Hooper

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780385536820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385536820
  • ASIN: 0385536828
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,064 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children's novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

371 of 414 people found the following review helpful By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
Ian McEwan remains one of my favorite living authors. His latest novel SWEET TOOTH makes my affection for him even deeper. This is another of those stories like Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO that too much said about the plot ruins the novel for other readers. I will quote, however, from the first paragraph of the novel as the narrator herself gives some secrets-- the book is chockfull of them and irony runs rampant-- away right away: "My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost 40 years ago [the early 1970's] I was sent on a secret mission for the British security service. I didn't return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing." In the next 300 plus pages Mr. McEwan in flawless prose fills the reader in on how these events came about. The last 20 or so of those pages is the kind that you read through while time stands still. I reacted the same to the last pages of a novel by another favorite writer many years ago, SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron, one of the supreme joys of reading fine novels.

Serena, as complex a character as any of Henry James` women characters, is forced by her mother to study math at Cambridge while her real love is literature, specifically fiction. "My mother told me she would never forgive me and she would never forgive herself if I went off to read English and became no more than a slightly better housewife than she was." She also is quite adept at getting into relationships that have no future although she soldiers on in her story that is set right in the middle of British politics in the early 1970's. (Serena votes for Wilson for prime minister.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Peter Mathews on February 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In 1972, the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges published a short story called "The Other," in which his elderly self, seated on a bench in Cambridge (the alma mater of Serena Frome, the protagonist of Sweet Tooth), bumps into his younger self. The two versions of Borges engage in a dialogue from which each comes away disconcerted by the differences between them, a device that is used by Borges to reflect on the disparate selves that we inhabit in the course of our lives. McEwan replicates a similar but fleeting moment in the course of his narrative. Toward the end of the book, as Serena is making her way through the crowd at Victoria station, she has a sudden vision: "I happened to glance to my right, just as the crowd parted, and I saw something quite absurd. I had a momentary glimpse of my own face, then the gap closed and the vision was gone." Sweet Tooth follows the same logic as Borges, for McEwan, now sixty-four and the author of more than a dozen books, uses this novel to reflect back on his early career.

On the surface, the plot seems to belie this strategy. Set in the 1970s, its first-person narrator is a young woman who, after graduating from Cambridge with a degree in mathematics, is recruited by MI5. Although women are usually handed MI5's lowliest tasks, Serena is given a break: she is assigned to an operation called Sweet Tooth, which provides covert funds to authors who have an established anti-communist bias. As such, Serena recruits Tom Haley, a budding young writer with whom she soon begins an affair.
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155 of 178 people found the following review helpful By Mark Simkin on October 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ian McEwan is a great writer. He is such a master of the language that he is a pleasure to read. And this book had stories within stories that are very clever. It reminded me a little of Le Carre's "A Perfect Spy" in that it centers on the real silliness of lots of espionage activities, but somehow Le Carre was better on this. Perhaps because he knows the field better than McEwan. I found McEwan's story just a little too cute, too pat, maybe a little silly. If you're a diehard McEwan fan you'll like this book for the quality of the writing, which is as usual really very good. But ultimately I found myself unsatisfied by this novel.
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104 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Somewhere in Ian McEwan's brilliant and riveting new novel, Sweet Tooth, readers are treated to a game of mathematical probability. The beautiful and duplicitous Serena Frome - the book's narrator and - walks her lover, a promising writer named Tom Healy, through a complex game of chance.

He doesn't truly grasp the context, yet soon after, he pens a story, donating her definition of probability to his key character. "At one level, it was obvious enough how these separate parts were tipped in and deployed. The mystery was in how they were blended into something cohesive and plausible, how the ingredients were cooked into something so delicious," Serena reflects.

Sweet Tooth is a reader's book and a writer's book. At its heart is invention; the logic that defines the outer world is sublimated into the author's vision of that world. It works beautifully and is, in my opinion, perhaps the most satisfying book that Ian McEwan has ever written. With masterpieces to his credit like Enduring Love, Saturday, Atonement, Amsterdam and others, that says a whole lot.

The plot incorporates elements of a classic spy story. Serena Frome is a beautiful and brilliant Cambridge student who is recruited to join the British M15 in the early 1970s during a jittery time in the country's history. Her special mission is to infiltrate the literary circle of an up-and-coming writer and essayist, Tom Healy in a psych-ops mission. To say much more would be to spoil the pleasure of discovery.

Suffice to say this: along the way, Mr. McEwan treats us to stories within stories. All of these dazzling stories carry within them the seeds of a future novel. Each is a polished little gem.
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