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Sweet Tooth Hardcover – 21 Aug 2012
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"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
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.
For me, this novel fails on several levels. Fistly (and I'm sure this is my fault) I didn't really understand why MI5 would take such an interest in fiction. Other reviewers don't seem to have had this problem, so it seems I'm on my own here. Then I found it hard to sympathise with any of the characters, and the novel seems rather fragemented. Every so often, the flow seems to cease (in particular, where the lengthy explanations of the "three boxes" theory arises; too complicated to go into here). Of course, as ever, McEwan's writing is beautiful, flowing effortlessly, but great prose is not enough. As for the "twist", I found this weak and unsurprising as it leads to the novel's rather laborious conclusion.
In summary, a big disappointment. I loved Saturday and Atonement, and was hoping for a much more absorbing read.
All very enjoyable.