Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

on 23 August 2012
I have read everything that he has written. He is not as good as his friend Martin Amis and both sadly are not as good as Alan Stilitoe which is the opinion of the critic at the back of Alan Stilitoe's last book " a man of his time" We are decoding which of the three is the best licving English author so it is quite important.

Sweet Tooth name is also a bit odd. What is it rying to say. That the Sweet Tooth authors have a sweet tooth for money? Or that somhow the sweetness disperses it self into society once they have ben signed up. Literature has nothing to do with sugar.Serena is into modern literature apparently although she reads " anything"She is also not very well read

I amazed myself at my stupidity by reading "Shades of Grey" what rubbish.And I hate to say it but Serena is also fixated on sex and all her sex scenes are described in a slightly boring way which remineded me of the awful bbok above

As opposed to Martin Amis Ian repeats himself too much.There is a suprising amount of repetition and loose ends are always connected up as in all his books.Why EXACTLY did Shirley get the sack? Does Martin Amis know that she " hung on his arm " after he wrote the Rachel papers.I know Martin and Ian are friends but can a living author go out with a fictional charachter?
We all know where the hippy stuff comes from and now he is Uber for the establishment
He often betrays his roots ,and his charachters often do as well. As he also quotes Orwell and Koestler in this book. Not sure that is actually true the bits about them both being used by the security services. What is being suggested is they also became establishment fugures...

I actually became bored with the writing and that is what makes me sad and makes Amis and Stillitoe superior writers. I am not saying do not read this book but compared to Black Dogs.Comfort of Strangers even Saturday it is a little boringly written and repetitive in the ideas in the prose.Mcewan has also written books which have a little twist.In comfort of strangers the person in the sea is either drowning or waving.
By the way did the phtos taken of Tom and Serena on the coast come from MI5 agents following them ?
I do admire Ian on different books and what I would call "tempos" or "pace" of the novels which are suprisingly different.

Atonement, Saturday, Cement Garden all have what I would call different "tempos" Even Solar was good But this like the House Series 5 ( And all other TV series they gradually get worse it happened with the series 24) is loosing it's touch very interesting like painters does the art get better or worse are all books comparable by the same author.?

I would love to ask Ian if he thinks this is as good as the first books.
There are novelists who argueably get better and like the TV series those who get worse.
But from a wordsmith's perspective He does not often " smith the words". smithing is what you do Like Flowersmith is trendy today.Martin Amis does not disappoiont me. Lionel Asbo and Pregnant widow are very well cratfed the literature is well crafted. i think McEwan's prose is not that well crafted and he writes a lot about himself . they all do.Even the bit about Surrey University versus Oxbridge in Tom's final letter
He cannot be in it for the money( maybe he is?) just because you have money does not mean you do not need more it depends what your expenses are) and let us discuss if this is a really good book.
. Chesyl Beach I liked but many did not
Or comfort of strangers.Great Book and film OK but book better and all vintage Ian Just not as good as Martin Amis I would love to meet them both together and love to know what Martin thinks of Ian's books. We see the tutors and the students since Ian and Martin teach don't they?.
2020 Comments| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 22 September 2012
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. The sense of the early 70s is well done and it there are fairly obvious points made about global financial crises then and now, although done implicitly and handled well. I couldn't spot many anachronisms and even if I could these could be explained away by the fact that Serena is narrating this from the present day.

I was a bit concerned about whether the author's voice was convincing as a woman in her sixties remembering her life in her late teens and early twenties and I have to say that I am sure this book will be up for a Bad Sex Award next time they are on. But it's certainly a page-turner and the final quarter of the book is extremely well handled and manages to throw in a twist or two. I don't think this is as good as, for example, The Innocent or The Child In Time (my favourite McEwan book) and it doesn't have the ability to shock like his early works (e.g. The Cement Garden) but it's very well done and certainly worth a read.
66 Comments| 95 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 22 August 2012
It is the early seventies, and Serena Frome, the very attractive daughter of an Anglican bishop, is working towards a degree in mathematics at Cambridge, after being coerced into studying maths by her quietly ambitious mother, instead of studying English as she would have preferred. Serena, who has always been a compulsive and voracious reader, finds herself struggling with the standard of maths expected of her at Cambridge and looks elsewhere for her enjoyment, burying herself in her books and looking for romance. In her final year, she meets Tony Canning, her boyfriend's tutor, a much older, married man and they enter into a short, but passionate affair, part of which involves Tony grooming Serena for the intelligence service.

Serena manages to get through the screening process for the British Intelligence Service and starts working for MI5 in a very junior position; however she is keen to improve her prospects and when, through her knowledge of literature, she is assigned to an operation called 'Sweet Tooth' she is eager to prove her worth. Serena learns that MI5 have set up a cultural foundation to secretly support writers who speak out against communism and she is to act as a representative of the foundation. In her pose, Serena is to encourage a young writer, Tom Haley, to leave his post in academia and be supported by the foundation to enable him to write full time, but he must remain unaware that the funding is coming from MI5. Serena is initially successful in her mission, but when she becomes intellectually, physically and then emotionally involved with Haley, she finds leading a double life is much more difficult and less exciting than she had imagined and she also discovers that this is where the lines between truth and fiction become blurred. And this is true not just for Serena, but for the reader also.

This story is not so much about spying, but about deception, duplicity and the manipulation of truth. And, not least, it is about the power of literature. Peppered with references to life in the early 1970s, with terrorist threats, strikes, power cuts, three day weeks, mini skirts and sexual freedom, this cleverly written, multi-layered novel is full of stories within stories which will set you thinking, especially when you get to the twist at the end, where you might just feel like turning back to the first page and starting again.

4 Stars.
66 Comments| 151 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 18 October 2012
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.

Retrospectively, there is a deus ex machina that absolves McEwan of stylistic flaws in use of language and characterisation but this seems rather egregious given that he himself, in interviews, has complained that first-person narratives are often used to hide poor style behind characterisation.

That is not to say this isn't a good novel; McEwan is, after all, one of Britain's preeminent living novelists. The plot is cunningly constructed and the twist itself is clever: it raises all sorts of questions regarding fiction and reality. There is genuine excitement to be had in the final third, although in the construction of such a meticulous plot, there were times, particularly in the early chapters, when McEwan seemed to allow the seams show. The plot is, nevertheless, an ideal instrument to play with themes of truth and lies, duty to self and duty to country, and autobiography and fiction. McEwan adroitly riffs on these themes with rare clarity.

Overall, this is a clever and adroitly constructed book that, for me, just lacks a little humanity.
66 Comments| 63 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 2 November 2012
In a literary environment where fewer and fewer authors get more and more accolades, this book is guaranteed to stir up the superlatives. As the inside cover tells us, it's the work of 'the supreme novelist of his generation' and an 'unrivalled literary giant.' I wonder if any of the critics whose opinion carries the imprimatur of The New York This and The London That ever think of that modest little story called The Emperor's New Clothes. I'm willing to bet if Sweet Tooth were to be submitted to a dozen publishers as the work of an unknown writer it would be summarily rejected.
Having liked some of McEwan's earlier novels. I bought this as an audio book to accompany me on an interstate drive, and oh dear. I've heard of road rage. I got book rage. I was trapped with the thing, in a very small space, and it just went on and on and on.
What's the problem? Where to begin?
Sterile narrative style. McEwan can write perfectly correct prose stretching ad infinitum, but this stuff is both flat and fake, utterly predictable in its cadences and completely lacking in any sense of personal voice. There's no warmth and no flexibility, no sense of rhythm other than that belonging to the instant mix and match repertoire of formal English prose. Ok, so the narrator/protagonist is a bishop's daughter, someone who is underdeveloped in the personality department, but that's no excuse.
Central persona. She just doesn't add up. Supposed to be 'rather gorgeous' and very well educated, with a maths degree from Cambridge, she is passive, confused, cringingly on the lookout for sexual attention and in the habit of picking up male mentors. As a consequence of which she is taken for a complicated succession of rides. It's a sign of poor quality thriller writing if the plot twists can only occur because somebody in the cast list fails to spot the bleeding obvious. Serena just never knows when she is being taken for a ride.
The other key characters are even more unprepossessing, especially the supposedly gifted young male writer upon whose work she lavishes the kind of sycophantic praise McEwan is used to receiving from the New York this and the London that. We get to hear a summary of all this guy's stories, each of which is more dismal than the last: exercises in misfired sociology, revolving around sexual encounters that make you wince.
As for the writing itself - the text is packed with redundant adjectives and adverbs, gratuitous tautological phrases, lingering descriptions which have no purpose other than to display the author's confidence in his capacity to make the reader's brain glow with admiration at every paragraph...
No I haven't got to the end. I'm stopping at the next gas station for whatever pap is on offer. At least it will be honest pap.
44 Comments| 28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 6 November 2012
I am an avid fan of McEwan but I feel that like many of his generation - Banks and Swift, for example - he is struggling to come up with plotlines that make the reader care about the outcome. When I started this book I felt the familiar awe at the man's superlative craftsmanship. I also give him huge credit for continually coming up with totally new situations and scenarios around which to write his novels - he never falls into the trap of being formulaic. However, the novel itself, sadly, is bit of a dog's breakfast. As one who remembers the period well, I was quite fascinated to see him tackle this period of our history when the left wing of politics seemed to flirt a little too closely with the Communists and where otherwise sane people were promoting Eastern Europe as a "Worker's Paradise". The basic premise of a front organisation for MI5 promoting artists who might counter the silly pro-Soviet propaganda of the time seems potty now but I don't think it was implausible then. Perhaps the portrayal of a misogynistic class-ridden MI5 is accurate too.

Sarah Froome, apart from being a laughably implausible spy, is a curiously empty character who seemingly thinks only of her last bonk. By the end I still didn't care about her. It's that kind of book. At one point McEwan ties himself in linguistic knots trying to explain some obscure quirk of mathematical probability and which, like his Tom Haley, he seems to have only half-grasped after a conversation in a pub. What on earth was Ian M thinking of? Tom Haley goes with bewildering speed from obscure university lecturer to award-winning novelist, out-penning such literary pigmies as Martin Amis. What a load of horse manure! Still, at least I could identify a little with him.

Then there's the much talked-about "twist". Well, my apologies to those who see it that way, but I found it absurd and I think McEwan just didn't know how else to finish the novel off. I was going to give this novel 3 stars You know, when I think about it, this was a heap of dross really - albeit classy dross.

I think Ian is going backwards as a novellist. He needs to take a long hard look at his plot lines and be honest with himself about where the line between improbability and absurdity lies. Above all, he needs to create characters with some warmth that we can care about.
33 Comments| 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 3 October 2012
Ian McEwan is a good writer, but not an exceptional one. I picked this up in the hope that he might actually fulfil the serious potential that Atonement promised, but unfortunately I was disappointed. I just don't get why he would write a novel like this. Although it masquerades as a spy novel, because serious spy novels (i.e. Le Carre)are the perfect platform to study betrayal and human frailty, it fails miserably on that score.

The story concerns a young lady, who on joining MI5 at the recommendation of a former older lover, is (because she likes speed reading novels)asked to "recruit" a young up and coming writer, and encourage him with a stipend from a dodgy foundation to write books, which MI5 hopes will be pro capitalist, anti totalitarian, and therefore will subliminally influence his readers to hate those darn commies. Yawnnnn! Not surprisingly they fall in love and this complicates things immeasurably.

The subject of MI5's attempt to manipulate the cultural direction of young British writers could certainly have provided interesting subject matter but this was not explored, explained or developed in any meaningful way. The Soviet version of this tactic was of course so much more ruthlessly enforced, but there's no mention of Solzhenitsyn etc,and the book could have covered some really interesting ground there. Instead McEwan uses the spy genre in a totally offhand manner, so much so that the protagonists could equally have simply been portrayed as rivals from different publishing houses trying to "poach" young talent and the story could have progressed equally well along those lines.

McEwans writing as ever is consistent and reasonably good but, his charachters are a little too simplistically drawn and very predictable. Their backgrounds are stultifyingly boring and cliched and as a consequence they don't really have anything going for them. If they invited me to a dinner party I'd be making my excuses!

Here's the real problem for McEwan though. As the plot staggers along to its denouement, readers of previous McEwan novels will inevitably start looking for the tell tale signs of the "twist at the end". And "hey presto", you will not be disappointed. I won't spoil it for you, but to me it was so obvious that I couldn't believe it even though I know this authors work. It's like watching repeats of Roald Dahls "Tales of the (un)Expected".

I would say in his favour that McEwan is very readable, but is still waiting for that "Eureka" moment when he produces something of genius. It's in him, but in my opinion only if he drops his formulaic endings, and realises that you don't have to provide your readers with a perfectly rounded explanation for everything that happens in the book, leave them guessing sometimes, that makes a book more thought provoking and memorable. If I was to guess, and I could be well wide of the mark here, I would say that McEwan, when re-drafting his books, goes back and makes sure that everthing in his convoluted ending has a reference somewhere earlier in the book. As a consequence, little things (like the writer was not contactable for a few days over the Christmas Holidays to his girlfriends consternation)which are not explained appear to be "cut and pasted" in and it's like watching a puppet show and being able to see the strings, the effect he's trying to create is lost in the mechanism of it's own creation.

From an author who is "hit and miss", on this occasion it's a miss I'm afraid .
22 Comments| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 31 August 2012
Ian McEwan can be slightly hit or miss. This novel is in the latter category. It is, in essence, a two-dimensional story with two-dimensional characters and a literary trick or two, not least one that involves the author, himself. But the story is fundamentally disappointing and unsatisfying, particularly as it is relatively easy to see the denouement, if not in its exact form then in its general nature, trundling along from some distance. It is, of course, well written - Ian McEwan is a good writer - but on this occasion a couple of good ideas and some modern historical context cannot be considered sufficient in themselves to create a memorable book. There is too much else on the pile to suggest to my wife that she reads this one...
33 Comments| 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 5 December 2012
McEwan's story centres on a Cambridge graduate with a love of literature joining MI5 during the 70's, sent on a low level mission, ends up in love with the subject.

I promise not to spoil the "plot" but I guarantee anyone reading the five star reviews and then this that the "twist" isn't that interesting.

He loses two stars for three reasons:

1. Serena is more of a fantasy than a product of McEwan's imagination. The Rector's daughter, sexually rabid, great at maths, loves books, wears pretty things, exudes beauty, and falls in love with old fellas and guys with big ears and scruffy pubic hair. He handles nothing about this repressed yet wayward female with any form of grace or reality. Like scenes from A Child in Time, McEwan proves once again his idea of the female construct is nothing more than that. Its not realistic and its not believable. The only believable part of the love story here was in fact her liaison with Tony - but then, what aging old guy wouldn't hold up a pretty female for a summer of sex?

2. The abrupt left-wing political rants jerked into the plot line in the guise of lectures to staff was both preachy and boring. McEwan demonstrates quite clearly his knowledge in this book about the commercial cutthroat nature of the publishing business. For profit. One he's handsomely benefited from over the years. Again this form of Atonement is both unsettling and quite frankly dishonest. Without blundering the "plot" his anti-hero will benefit significantly from this also, another lame attempt by McEwan to give his happy-clappy views on anti-establishment some weight. Please.

3. Finally, I can't argue that McEwan's formulaic literary prose delivery keeps the pages turning. As I've posted in other reviews here, can I have a story please, that's also well told?

Trying to indulge a fantasy, send out a political message, please editors and critics is always going to be contrived and ugly.
22 Comments| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 20 February 2013
What a great read Ian McEwan's latest novel is, spies and love set in a time of political turmoil in the early seventies. A period I was able to empathise well with as I was working myself during the three day week. From the first page you know the outcome of the story, but there is still a secret to be discovered, McEwan is uses his characters brilliantly in this novel to tell us just how MI5 prompted the cultural cold war.

'Sweet Tooth' is narrated by the female heroine of the novel Serena Frome, the daughter of an Anglican bishop, who during her final year at Cambridge studying for a maths degree, has an affair with an older man. Not such an unusual occurrence but she later discovers that thanks to her lover she was being groomed for a career in the intelligence services, her intelligence and beauty making her the perfect spy! The world is divided by 'The Cold War' and the government of the time wants to give financial but secret aid to promising young writers that will boost the anti - communist propaganda.
Serena as an avid reader is seen as the perfect choice to be sent on a secret mission, code named 'Sweet Tooth' to infiltrate herself into the literary circle of a promising young writer, Tom Haley. Her task is to gauge his suitability for such financial aid. Serena discovers that at first she loves Tom's writing and of course approves him, however she had not reckoned on falling in love with him. What will she do, whom can she trust and will she be able to keep her secret life from the man she has fallen for?

Once again another brilliant novel from Ian McEwan, a clever and ingenious story with plenty of intrigue that will satisfy his fans and maybe attract new ones. Do give it a try.
22 Comments| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Customers also viewed these items

Need customer service? Click here