- Also check our best rated Romance Book reviews
Sweet Tooth Hardcover – 21 Aug 2012
|New from||Used from|
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"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)
Love and espionage in 1970s Britain: a riveting new novel from the bestselling author of Atonement and Enduring LoveSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
This is not a new topic for fiction: Ellen Feldman's The Unwitting, for example, deals with precisely the same idea only set in New York with the CIA providing the cash. Where McEwan seems to lose his way, though, is in the rambling first person narrative of Serena as she bumbles her way speedreading through world literature, while falling into bed with a series of mostly older, unattractive men, and incidentally running Project Sweet Tooth on the side.
There is ultimately a reason for the stilted, artificial, contrived nature of Serena's storytelling but it's a tricky one to pull off and I didn't think it worked here. One, it's been almost used before by McEwan himself in another book, and two, it's just so self-consciously metaliterary that it's almost a pastiche of postmodern fiction.
In amongst all the literary game-playing, though, I did enjoy the evocation of the 1970s, especially the excursions into British interventions in Northern Ireland. So altogether this is a bit of a potpourri of a novel with lots of stuff mixed up together. Ultimately the voice we hear is always McEwan's own voice (the iambic rhythm of a train's wheels, for example) - self-conscious to the last.
But it’s not the twisty-turny aspect of McEwan’s narratives which gives them their sap. It’s rather the handle he has on his characters’ moral tuning: the way he gradually raises the emotional temperature until the story is, to overcook a metaphor, on the boil. As Serena Frome agonises over her role in Sweet Tooth, an MI5 operation aimed at wringing political purchase from cultural endeavour, so does the reader.
Posing as the representative of a foundation which supports the work of young artists, Serena offers young novelist Tom Haley a stipendium which will enable him to give up his work as an academic and focus purely on writing his first novel. The rightist bent of Haley’s short stories is considered another potential weapon in the cultural war against communist propaganda. And the fact that Serena then falls in love with her mark prevents her from warning him of the potential trap into which he is about to fall as a dupe of the secret service.
One suspects that McEwan also had a lot of fun while writing this book, with his knowing references to the ‘up and coming’ authors of the 1970s, like Martin Amis, or the ‘new-fangled’ Booker prize. But at its heart, this is a novel which has very serious things to say about artistic integrity and the precarious relationship between politics and literature. And fundamentally, it’s a love story, and a beautiful one at that. Reading Sweet Tooth was yet another reminder of just how adept McEwan is at calibrating the vagaries of the human heart.
It follows its young protagonist Serena Frome through her recruitment by MI5 after her graduation from Cambridge. The programme in which she is asked to work is codenamed 'Sweet Tooth' and it seems Serena has been headhunted for her wide knowledge of modern fiction and ability to speed-read novels. But there may have been other, more sinister reasons behind her recruitment. She is tasked with vetting and recruiting writer Thomas Haley, an exciting new talent in the literary field, but matters start to get complicated when she finds herself romantically drawn to her target.
The 1970s setting of this story was a turbulent period in Great Britain, with industrial strikes and an energy crisis, the Northern Ireland 'Troubles' crossing over to the English mainland, the '3 Day Week' and shifts of power between political left and right. Paranoia over the Cold War between West and East spread to the arts and culture as opposing regimes sought to win over the minds of the young intelligentsia. McEwan sketches in these period details as a background to his story, and to someone like me - who lived in London as a student in the early 1970s - they come across as accurate, even nostalgic at times, as when he describes the run-down bedsits of London suburbs in which Serena stays.
However, I found the style of writing here - apparently a first person account written by Serena Frome - comes across as something like a pastiche of chick-lit, which I took to be McEwan's attempt to get inside the head of his twenty-something female protagonist - although we are led to believe this is the mature Serena writing now (the novel was published in 2012) about her time in MI5. All is not what it seems ...
It was not long after the introduction of the Thomas Haley character that I started to notice a number of autobiographical elements in McEwan's story. Haley - like McEwan - studied at the University of Sussex, rather lowbrow in comparison to Ms Frome and her Oxbridge set, and he writes rather bizarre stories that reminded me of McEwan's early collection in 'In Between the Sheets' (1978). Haley has written a novel that wins a prestigious literary prize, mirroring McEwan's own achievement when he won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976. And then in 'Sweet Tooth' McEwan starts introducing a number of real life characters as Haley's acquaintances who just happen to be figures from McEwan's own literary circle.
McEwan name-drops a number of the literary figures of the time, and a lot of other writers of whom he approves, and - if I were to gain nothing else from this work - I am indebted to the author for introducing me here to the poems of Edward Thomas, a poet of the Great War who somehow had passed me by. His poem 'Adlestrop' features in this novel.
As the story develops, we can start to see the author's hand at play as through his avatar Haley he starts to play with our perceptions. The theme of the story appears to be the relationship between artistic integrity and government propaganda. However, the novel seeks to on work on several different levels, and I was somewhat disappointed to find McEwan dropping the political context and not following through many of the period threads that he introduced earlier in the story. It turns out that this is a work of meta-fiction, a novel about the creation of fiction, exploring how the writer takes characters and experiences from real life and combines and re-shapes them into a work of fiction.
McEwan ends the book with a piece of sleight of hand that is meant to be a surprising twist, the final distortion of our understanding of what we have been reading, although I suspect that many readers will see it coming. It would be wrong if I said I did not enjoy reading 'Sweet Tooth' and if it had been penned by any other writer I would probably be kinder towards it. It is an entertaining read, playful and inoffensive. But I expect a lot more from Ian McEwan, and therefore it disappoints.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews