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Sweet Tooth [Hardcover]

Ian McEwan
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (425 customer reviews)
RRP: 18.99
Price: 15.19 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

21 Aug 2012

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' which 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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First American Edition edition (21 Aug 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0224097377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224097376
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (425 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,806 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 novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday and On Chesil Beach.

Product Description


"Enthralling, beguiling and totally addictive from the first page to the last. McEwan's sense of time and place is authentic with his trademark attention to details of the social history of the period" (Bristol Magazine)

"A brilliant portrayal of 1970s Britain at its absolute worst. But it's also a gripping spy novel with some characteristic McEwan twists toward the end" (Mail on Sunday)

"No contemporary novelist is more enthralled by what goes on inside the human skull than Ian McEwan... Doubling back and forth across genre boundaries, Sweet Tooth takes risks...this acute, witty novel is a winningly cunning addition to McEwan's fictional surveys of intelligence." (Peter Kemp Sunday Times)

"Playful, comic... This is a great big Russian doll of a novel, and in its construction - deft, tight, exhilaratingly immaculate - is a huge part of its pleasure." (Julie Myerson Observer)

"A thoroughly clever novel...a sublime novel about novels, about writing them and reading them and the spying that goes on in doing both...very impressive...rich and enjoyable." (Lucy Kellaway Financial Times)

Book Description

Love and espionage in 1970s Britain: a riveting new novel from the bestselling author of Atonement and Enduring Love

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
McEwan's latest novel charts the progress of Serena Frome from the seat of her father's bishopric, via a mathematics degree at Cambridge, to a junior role in MI5 during the 1970s. Much of the novel is taken up with her romantic engagements, professional disappointments and love of literature until all of them become bound together in a single operation, Sweet Tooth.

There are writers -like Martin Amis, who appears as a minor character in this novel- who excel at writing gorgeous, funny, efficient prose and who create engaging characters but struggle to package it into a wholly satisfying novel. McEwen is at the other end of the spectrum; the complex structures of his novels are marvellously articulated but the tone and characters feel cold and, consequently, can leave the reader a little apathetic.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that this novel only really seems to catch light in the latter third, when the plot (and the obligatory twist) accelerate and come to the fore. In comparison, the more prosaic early chapters seem to drag. There is some interest to be had from the minutiae of the security services, considerations on literature and a nice evocation of the winter of discontent. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to warm to Serena, who is so central to the novel and whose tribulations struck me as mundane and her insecurities annoying rather than endearing. There were also few tics in her first person narrative (repeated phrases, the sex descriptions) that seemed careless.
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84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever 22 Sep 2012
By John Tierney VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wasn't convinced by McEwan's attempt at humour in Solar and this is very much a return to what I think he is good at. The story of Serena Frome (rhymes with plume!) and narrated by her, it tells of her progression from studying maths at Cambridge (whilst nurturing her real passion for literature) to her recruitment by MI5 in the early 70s. MI5 at that time is very much a male-dominated organisation and the women recruited are given mostly admin tasks. Serena has left a relationship with an older married man at Cambridge (who groomed her for MI5) and is attracted to Max, a senior colleague at work. But her life changes when she is given a real assignment - managing a young author, Tom Haley, who MI5 believe to have the right (sic) tendencies to write the type of thing they like i.e. anti-communist essays and novels. Serena persuades Tom to accept funding (with its real source hidden) to support his work, but things are (somewhat predictably) complicated as she is immediately attracted to him and vice versa. From then it's only a matter of time before things start to unravel and although the novel is not exciting as such, the prose is extremely taut and is fairly un-putdownable.

I was concerned early on in the book that there was a lot of writing about writing going on, something I detest. And there are a lot of references to books and authors - there is even a very famous author who has a part in the book, although we never "see" him directly. But eventually I was won over by how McEwan meshes the plot, discussions about literature and even some short stories (including one about the Monty Hall problem (worth googling) and how it might - and might not - be the source of a short story about infidelity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I loved everything about this book. It poses as a tale of espionage but in fact turns out to be so much more than that - it's about love and trust, about writing and reading. The world of politics and MI5, from its low level offices of monotonous paperwork to its more exciting side of undercover operations and employee betrayals, comes second to the tension and suspense built through the development of character relationships. The 1970s setting is superbly depicted and I found Serena Frome to be a very convincingly real protagonist, with a distinctive personality and background established from the beginning, whose thoughts and actions are always true to the attributes that McEwan bestows upon her. The nuances of her emotional journey are explored in impressive and affective detail, and consequently her story is so incredibly engaging that I longed to know what happened to her and her surrounding characters beyond the final page of the book. McEwan's prose is smooth and vivid, and the novel's final twist is ingenious.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Predictable 2 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Although this book has loads of good comments on the cover you do have to wonder if they were really written about this book, as there is no suspense; as such the story is clever, if we didn't have so many hints and 'signposts' throughout.

Taking in an operation by MI5 during the Seventies this does make an interesting read. We meet Serena Frome at the very outset, whilst she is still at Cambridge and before she joins MI5. As she becomes a participant in Operation Sweet Tooth though you do start to feel that there is a bit too much filler. Serena is told to check out writer Tom Haley, and we then get her thoughts on what his stories are about, etc. As the story progresses we read of bluffs and double bluffs, love, jealousy, and revenge, but when we come to the final outcome of this story it seems to fizzle out more than go with a bang.

Ian McEwan blurs the lines of fiction with this book making you ponder on what is real and what is fake, a construct that is very apt for the world of spies, but ultimately he lets the reader down as he gives way too many 'clues' throughout the story of what is happening, thus he doesn't leave room to pull any punches. At the end of this I felt that I had read a novella that had been filled out with extraneous material to make it into a novel; and also in a way cheated, as I was hoping for something that would make me think that I had misread clues and this wasn't what I thought would happen. I sometimes wonder when an author gets to a certain point of their career and are well established, if they perhaps get a bit lazy. This is a book that falls into that category, it could have been written with a bit more thought, hitting you and making you go 'Wow!', instead of doing what it does, and make you think 'Well that was obvious ages ago.' This is more of what I would call a beach read, enjoyable enough, not demanding, and an easy read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars As Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, I was looking forward to...
As Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, I was looking forward to reading his novel. And I am glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Read more
Published 36 minutes ago by katarina
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
A very good read
Published 3 days ago by Mrcgstrick
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but I could have spent my time on better books
I didn't enjoy this as much as most of Ian McEwan's other novels. Somehow, the characters were not engaging and the story itself seemed a bit slight. But I finished it.
Published 4 days ago by V Johnston
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read
Great read. Intelligent (which you'd expect from McEwan - but not too clever-clever), surprising and a heroine to really relate to, in a world of objectionable men. Read more
Published 4 days ago by IanA
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
I got lost in the middle but all in all it was fine
Published 8 days ago by sparror hawk
4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff
You spend a lot of time wondering where this is going. Some of it is a bit studied, especially if you know Ian McEwan's work but the denouement is very clever.
Published 16 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Thank you!!
Published 16 days ago by Susan Hirschman
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoy most of Ian McEwan's books - they are so ...
I enjoy most of Ian McEwan's books - they are so well written. I enjoyed the espoinage element of this story which intrigued me, but the characters were not particularly likeable. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Diane Dunwell
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good. Well written
Published 17 days ago by Manda
4.0 out of 5 stars An absolute delight
After the personal reading debacle that was Solar, I had almost given up on McEwan, but he delivers such a sucker punch with Sweet Tooth, that in one stroke I am back to being a... Read more
Published 18 days ago by coronaurora
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