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This review is from: Sweet Tooth: A Novel (Hardcover)
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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. The craft of the writer is similarly explored; as Serena states, "There was, in my view, an unwritten contract with the reader that the writer must honour. No single element of an imagined world or any of its characters should be allowed to dissolve on authorial whim."
Lastly, Ian McEwan is at the top of his form in getting into the mind of his female narrator - no easy feat. I completely understood the complex character of Serena and was half in love with Tom Healy myself. Mr. McEwan performs sleights of hand that show an intricate knowledge of the geography of a woman's mind. Whether this book is read as a thriller, a glimpse into the writer's craft, a psychological study, or just a darn good yarn, the themes are universal: love, betrayal, and yes, atonement.
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Showing 1-10 of 22 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 2, 2012 6:27:25 AM PDT
Roger Brunyate says:
Nice whiplash ending, Jill, and I love "the geography of a woman's mind"! I also agree with you about the extraordinary quality of the stories within stories, indeed with all that you say More perhaps by eMail? Roger.
p.s. Fine new picture! Is that you being deliciously satisfied?
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2012 6:36:42 AM PDT
Yes, more by email. This was a challenging book to review because of the potential of spoilers but at its core, it was the writer's craft that spoke most to me. (And the photo has been up for awhile.)
Posted on Oct 3, 2012 2:11:53 PM PDT
Friederike Knabe says:
Jill, very enticing review which is beautifully written. Makes me rethink some of my impressions. Friederike.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2012 2:17:34 PM PDT
What a gracious comment, Friederike. Of course, you've more than once made me rethink MY impressions on various books.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2012 4:18:12 AM PDT
Friederike Knabe says:
Jill, I will send you my conclusions by email. Leave it all open here...
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2012 4:40:00 AM PDT
Roger Brunyate says:
F, copy me when you do. I'd be interested to see if they have changed any. R.
Posted on Oct 4, 2012 12:02:38 PM PDT
Mary Lins says:
Another great review, Jill. I, too, loved the "whiplash" ending...you put that well!
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2012 12:12:13 PM PDT
Thanks, Mary. Looks like this is yet one more book we both enjoyed!
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2012 3:18:54 PM PDT
Bonnie Brody says:
Jill, I'm about to start this novel tonight. I just finished Diaz's book of short stories. It is nothing short or brilliant. You must read it if you haven't done so already. Bonnie
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2012 3:26:59 PM PDT
Bonnie, I am totally enamoured of Diaz. I heard him speak in person here in Chicago, bought his book, and read and reviewed it. I agree -- it's brilliant. I loved this one as well.