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Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
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Sweet Tooth (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Ian McEwan

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1,528None4,799 (3.56)99
Member:HelenBaker
Title:Sweet Tooth
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:Jonathan Cape (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:English Fiction

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Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
I love Ian McEwan, but this, his latest, novel is not for the first time reader.It is full of literary pyrotechnics that will probably confused those who are not familiar with his work.

Serena Frome (rhymes with Plume) is a the daughter of an Anglican bishop who has, at her mother's insistence gone up to Cambridge to study mathematics instead of reading English, which she most certainly prefers. Once there, she finds that her early talent for maths was just that - a minor talent - but she doggedly caries on earning an undistinguished third upon graduation. She does, however, have a talent for attracting men, one of whom is an older professor with whom she has a bittersweet affair the summer after she has graduated.

While the affair ends badly, he gets her recruited into MI5 where after languishing for months as a glorified file clerk, she gets assigned to "Sweet Tooth," the agency's scheme to recruit writers and pay them through a front foundation to write articles, stories and novels that will be a counterpoint to the prevailing left-leaning literature in Britain in the 1960's and 1970's.

Serena is sent to recruit a doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, Tom Haley, (a stand-in for McEwan himself) and, of course, they promptly fall into bed and then into love, much to the chagrin of her MI5 handlers.

The story is advanced through a literary conceit of Tom's short stories that are altered versions of McEwan's own works of the period and the author's former publisher, his former editor and his old running buddy, Martin Amis all put in appearances as characters in the book. The setting in the bad old days of Britain in the 1970's is evocative, but unexplained, so if the reader is not familiar with the events of those years, he or she would do well to bone up on them.

I had figured out who the bad guy was in this piece well before the end of the book, but the reveal in the last chapter was still a surprise. This may be one of those books, full of literary tricks that Serena would have despised, but the "happy ending" would probably make her smile. I hope so. ( )
  etxgardener | Mar 12, 2014 |
For book club. Almost painful to read it was so awful. I would give it a zero rating. Gives women a negative image in the 60s and 70s and has the main character with a Daddy complex. Really terribly depressing. I would not ever read this author again and I didn't finish this book.
  hklibrarian | Mar 6, 2014 |


I'll have to think about this. My first reaction is 2 stars. I might change that.

January 16 ~

Okay, I've thought about it and my star rating remains at two stars. The following are my reasons why:

- First, I want you to know I am an Ian McEwan fan, but this book disappoints. I find all the characters glib, unlikable and unbelievable, full of themselves, predictable and boring. The writing seems, to me, to be self-conscious and contrived and the narrative is sterile, lacking any warmth. Sweet Tooth takes place in the London of the 1970's. The Cold War is ever present. Serena Frome, fresh out of Cambridge becomes a spy for the British government. She has not a whit of common sense. Strange that she managed a degree from Cambridge. She is passive, incredibly immature, and constantly looking for her next sexual liaison. Sound like a MI5 operative to you? Certainly not to me. She is asked to take part in an operation named “Sweet Tooth,” which involves using a 'foundation' to cultivate writers who will help with the West's propaganda machine against Communism. Because Serena has an abiding love for (sort of) literature she is sent to cultivate a young author named Tom Haley, who has published some short stories and other writings but is in need of cash to continue his work. They have an affair, fall in love, and talk about fiction and writing. Here we are fed bits and pieces of Tom's writings. This is a clever, annoying trick that somehow wants us to think about love, art, life, and how it might all relate to spying.
In the end we have a spy novel with no mystery, and a love story with no romance. It is utterly forgettable.



( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |


I'll have to think about this. My first reaction is 2 stars. I might change that.

January 16 ~

Okay, I've thought about it and my star rating remains at two stars. The following are my reasons why:

- First, I want you to know I am an Ian McEwan fan, but this book disappoints. I find all the characters glib, unlikable and unbelievable, full of themselves, predictable and boring. The writing seems, to me, to be self-conscious and contrived and the narrative is sterile, lacking any warmth. Sweet Tooth takes place in the London of the 1970's. The Cold War is ever present. Serena Frome, fresh out of Cambridge becomes a spy for the British government. She has not a whit of common sense. Strange that she managed a degree from Cambridge. She is passive, incredibly immature, and constantly looking for her next sexual liaison. Sound like a MI5 operative to you? Certainly not to me. She is asked to take part in an operation named “Sweet Tooth,” which involves using a 'foundation' to cultivate writers who will help with the West's propaganda machine against Communism. Because Serena has an abiding love for (sort of) literature she is sent to cultivate a young author named Tom Haley, who has published some short stories and other writings but is in need of cash to continue his work. They have an affair, fall in love, and talk about fiction and writing. Here we are fed bits and pieces of Tom's writings. This is a clever, annoying trick that somehow wants us to think about love, art, life, and how it might all relate to spying.
In the end we have a spy novel with no mystery, and a love story with no romance. It is utterly forgettable.



( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
Sweet Tooth is a love story, a deception, an exploitation of a few individuals during the cold war.

“My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service, I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.”

This is the opening paragraph - I was hooked instantly.

There is a bit of background about Serena, the eldest daughter of an English bishop and a speed reader, lover of all forms and genres of literature. She is also adept with math and so, even though she has no interest in pursuing a career in math, her mother forces the issue and bottom line is, Serena is enrolled in Cambridge studying math. It’s there she meets a professor who will change her life. Tony Canning will influence Serena is ways she will never be aware until years later. He pushes her toward a career with MI5, something she wasn’t necessarily keen to do but…….well, I don’t want to give away too much if you haven’t read it.

Serena Frome invents a cover story for her job with MI5, something completely unnecessary as she isn’t an agent. The women hired on performed mostly clerical duties but something about Serena (to be revealed later in the book) gives her an edge to an undercover job. Her family thinks she deals with paperwork and the job she describes would make one lapse into a deep sleep.

She is promoted from filing to work with the project dubbed “Sweet Tooth.” The agency is tasked with finding authors or academics who are anti-communist and also in need of financial assistance to write their novels. This is meant to counteract communist literature and hype in the 1970s, during the cold war. Naturally Serena is thrilled not only for the promotion but a chance to work in a field she is comfortable, something she loves – literature.

A colleague warns her that in intelligence work “the line between what people imagine and what’s actually the case can get very blurred. . . . You imagine things — and you can make them come true.”

It’s not a foodie book, but food was mentioned briefly in a few scenes.

Serena and Tony walked through the woods behind his Suffolk country cottage; her mind was on making love but Tony was thinking only of mushrooms and crepes. That evening he cooked up a pan iof what he preferred to call porcini, with olive oil, pepper, salt and pancetta. They are this with grilled polenta, salad and red wine. A Barolo.

With Tom I think Serena found a genuine love. Different than her love for Tony Canning, notes of deception and betrayal by both parties, and unbeknownst to both parties as well. How is that possible? The last chapter reveals all.

Tom and Serena were regulars at Wheeler’s fish restaurant and treated as honored guests when they arrived, semi drunk from too much Chablis at home before walking to the restaurant. It helped that tom over-tipped the waiters. They always ordered “the usual” for a starter which was two glasses of champagne and a dozen oysters.

“I’m not sure we liked the idea of them, the oval arrangement of barnacled ancient life among the parsley and halved lemons and, glinting opulently in the candlelight, the bed of ice, the silver dish, the polished cruet of chili sauce”

I am going to spring for the champagne or just go with the more comforting food of fried polenta and pancetta and mushrooms when I post this at Novel Meals. Right now we have lots of ice on our field (I live in Florida) and not being used to that, I may opt to share the comfort food. ( )
  SquirrelHead | Jan 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
A satisfying spy novel with a literary twist provides both surprises and sly references to McEwan's early work
 
Ian McEwan has never been a spy (or, if he has, that fact remains classified), but of today's novelists he may be the most uniquely suited to the profession. He has a scientific, technical mind drawn to structural ploys and complicated scene engineering. . . . Mr. McEwan likes manipulating readers as much as plots. . . . Ultimately, like his bloodless previous novel, Solar (2010), there is little point to Sweet Tooth beyond Mr. McEwan's low-level authorial deceptions. . . . The book is soon overwhelmed by its own narrative ruse, which revealed in the final pages, is clever but not meaningful.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Sam Sacks (Nov 13, 2012)
 
In playing these mirror games, Mr. McEwan seems to want to make the reader think about the lines between life and art, and the similarities between spying and writing. He also seems to want to make us reconsider the assumptions we make when we read a work of fiction. As usual his prose is effortlessly seductive. And he does a nimble job too of conjuring London in the 1970s — with its economic woes, worries about I.R.A. bombings and uneasy assimilation of the countercultural changes of the ’60s. These aspects of “Sweet Tooth” keep the reader trucking on through the novel, but alas they’re insufficient compensation for the story’s self-conscious contrivance and foreseeable conclusion.
 
The combination of all these nose-tapping hints suggests to the alert reader that there’s something clever-clever coming along at the end, which makes it feel even more like a gimmick. I won’t spoil things if you’re going to read the book, but just remember that one of the central characters is a novelist. OK?
 
But Sweet Tooth – which has been misleadingly hyped as a thriller – is a different kind of work altogether. It’s McEwan’s version of metafiction, his exploration of what it could mean to write a postmodern-realist novel for a wide (mainstream and literary) readership. It’s also rather biographical. . . . . but this novel could be seen as his way of reaching beyond the easy labels without abandoning the style his readers love. He’s intelligent, has popular and literary appeal, manages credibly and interestingly to include politics in his writing, and has a gift for making an enormous range of readers feel as though he is writing about them, about their own particular life of the mind. He observes the tiny tragedies of growing up and growing old with humour and insight.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian McEwanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If only I had met, on this search, a single clearly evil person.
Timothy Garton Ash, The File
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To Christopher Hitchens
1949-2011
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My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service.  I didn't return safely.  Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.
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Recruited into MI5 against a backdrop of the Cold War in 1972, Cambridge student Serena Frome, a compulsive reader, is assigned to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer whose politics align with those of the government, a situation that is compromised when she falls in love with him.… (more)

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