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Sweet Tooth: A Novel Paperback – July 2, 2013
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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One writing instructor said authors like to prove how smart they are. McEwan accomplishes that in this book, not that there was any doubt about that. But still it's fun to be reminded that top intellect exists and is available to us to amuse. None of the characters in this novel seemed quite real. They were parodies. The novel is clever, original and imaginative. I especially enjoyed McEwan's sensibility of the world of books. He is also adroit at assuming the way a character might converse with the back story and mindset he created for them.
The novel lacked a bit of heart which was probably intentional. Can you love a book when you don't particularly like anyone in it? I'm amused, impressed, amazed by it, but can't love it. That may be a lack of imagination on my part. At times I didn't want to finish it as the story or characters weren't compelling to me, but the writing technique and mind behind it was. The novel is clever entertainment and you are able to see talent at work. That isn't easily found and makes it worthy reading -- if you've got a sweet tooth for that kind of thing.
This Cold War era spy/love novel centers around Serena Frome, Cambridge mathematics graduate, who is recruited into MI5 and works on secretly funding writers whose politics lean in the same direction as the government. The obvious love entanglement that ensues from her "mission" is the central plot line. While several of the characters lack the depth I would have preferred, I also thought of this as an artistic touch. The shadowy world of Cold War politics and espionage provide a world of intrigue and uncertainty where nothing is what it seems to be. In many ways, McEwan reflects this in his opaque treatment of many of the characters in the book, particularly spurned love interest Max.
Is this McEwan's finest effort? Certainly not. However, even if one found this novel wanting, McEwan writes better than 99% of other novelists out there and while it doesn't rise to the heights of "Atonement", "Chesil Beach" or "Amsterdam", it still is a very satisfying and enjoyable book.
Young Serena, by virtue of her romantic involvement with an older MI5 agent, finds herself with a job as an entry-level worker in Britain's internal security organization. Her prospects for advancement in a male dominated profession in pre-feminist London are dim--that is until she's recruited to play a part in an odd scheme to fund young authors who have the "right" political outlook. Her superior's calculation is that in a war of ideologies, the government has a role to play in secretly supporting intellectuals who have the power to influence people who might be on the fence about Communism. Serena's role is to play the role of an agent of a literary foundation that has decided to fund struggling author Tom Haley. MI5 plotters think that Haley will churn out the kind of novels that make Western democratic capitalism seem like the best alternative to Communism. It's a stretch but far stranger plots were certainly hatched by the American CIA during the Cold War. Serena inevitably become romantically involved with her unwitting dupe with a series of interesting consequences.
This is a good novel. The plot allows Serena to explore themes of passion (in her emotional support for her young author/lover), loyalty (to her MI5 superiors and colleagues) and betrayal (in her inability to tell Tom who's really funding him and why).
There's a big BUT here, however. There's a significant twist that comes in the closing pages of Sweet Tooth. A twist that had I never seen it used before would have been stunning, providing a satisfying end to the novel. There's just one problem: it's a twist that McEwan has famously used before! For a novel that was so on track up to that point, I was amazed both that McEwan would use it again and that his editors would allow it. I can't say much more than that without ruining it for others, but I admit to feeling let down. Then again, for those who aren't familiar with this particular plot twist from one of his most notable earlier novels, it probably will serve as a satisfying ending. For those of us who have seen it before, I felt just a little cheated. Having said all of that, I can only take one star off for what was otherwise a very enjoyable book.
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I read this book in two ways. I listened to the audio-book, but I ran out of renewals from the library, so...Read more