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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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1,6931194,218 (3.53)114
Member:HelenBaker
Title:Sweet Tooth
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:Jonathan Cape (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:English Fiction

Work details

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (2012)

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    The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman (RidgewayGirl)
    RidgewayGirl: The same general topic from a different angle.
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» See also 114 mentions

English (108)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (119)
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
Young woman recruited for MI5 gets involved with the writer she's supposed to be using. No spoiler: You knew this would happen -- which is a fault in the novel. ( )
  picardyrose | Nov 23, 2014 |
Maybe it's because I just reread it, but this novel bears a lot of similarities to Peter Dickinson's Yellow Room Conspiracy. Of course, there are loads of differences--Sweet Tooth takes place 20 or 25 years later, Serena is pretty thoroughly middle-class; Lucy Vereker upper . . . but I can't help thinking that McEwan is updating Dickinson's story somewhat here. I'm not suggesting plagiarism, even though I think McEwan didn't so much for himself in that whole controversy--why compound a small theft with big, obvious lies? The two books make for an interesting contrast in styles though. McEwan seems much better at rendering everyday reality; Dickinson's reality seems always to come through the lens of some highly eccentric, very willful character. But Dickinson's handling of motive is a lot more convincing.

Another significant contrast is that McEwan seems to have a real contempt for pre-Thatcher England--its tattiness and ineffectulness--while Dickinson seems to have affection his somewhat older England--acknowledging that it was very deeply flawed, but liking it nonetheless. In fact, it seems that creeping Thatcherism is a lot of the problem in Dickinson's book.

Overall the book is pretty well done. Even the seemingly now obligatory and usually pretty tiresome novelist-within or novel-within twist is handled elegantly. No acknowledgement of Dickinson in the afterword . . . I wonder if McEwan's read Yellow Room or whether they're both riffing on the same real life events (Philby, Profumo, etc.) ( )
  ehines | Nov 15, 2014 |
Very clever and entertaining, but I didn't find that it was much more than that. He didn't look deeply into the minds and motives of his characters. ( )
  rsairs | Oct 26, 2014 |
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth” is an intriguing novel about love, literature, espionage and politics in Britain during the 1970s. The story’s protagonist Serena Frome is a recent Cambridge graduate with a degree in mathematics and a passion for novels. With the help from her lover, history professor and ex-intelligence officer, Serena lands a job at MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency. After months of nothing more than typing and filing, Serena’s love of literature comes in handy as she gets assigned to the operation Sweet Tooth. Her seemingly easy task to recruit a young writer Tom Haley becomes complicated when Serena falls in love with her subject.

THUMBS UP:

1) An enjoyable novel with an unexpected ending.
Although I wouldn’t call this story extraordinary, it was nevertheless a pleasant read, which kept me interested until the very end. And the ending is just great; it actually raised my opinion about the whole book.

2) Stories within a story.
To become acquainted with her subject, Serena had to read Tom Haley’s writings. I really enjoyed his short stories so smoothly incorporated throughout the book. Such a great way to freshen up the main plot as well as to show the reader Haley’s work rather than dully describe how good or bad it is!

COULD BE BETTER:

1) Political overload.
At least a third of the book is occupied by references to as well as discussions and opinions about British and world politics, which serve mostly as distractions rather than additions, are highly repetitive and often quite irrelevant to the main plot. Boooring! No need to show off, Mr. McEwan, just please get to the point before I doze off.

2) References not for everyone.
“Sweet Tooth” is full of literary and political references which are either related to Britain or to 1970s or both. Although I can see that someone who is familiar with all things British might really connect with the book, I found myself spending more time on Wikipedia than on the book itself. Soon I gave up and just skipped the parts I didn’t get, but I am sure I would have enjoyed the book so much more if I had more background in British literature and affairs during the 1970s.

VERDICT:

I generally liked “Sweet Tooth,” but at times it was hard to enjoy the story due to too much politics and all-British references. I sticked with it, however, and I am glad I did; the ending was worth the effort. ( )
1 vote AgneJakubauskaite | Oct 3, 2014 |
Not my favourite Ian McEwan novel, others have explained the premise. I found it a bit knowing and incestuous, with writers writing about writers, writing about writing. I also found the stories within the story made it all a bit fragmented, almost as if he had a few short stories completed and had to find some way to knit them together. ( )
  lizchris | Oct 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 108 (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.
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ian McEwanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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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