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Sweet Tooth: A Novel by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Ian McEwan

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1,6761174,268 (3.53)112
Title:Sweet Tooth: A Novel
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:Knopf Canada (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Read in 2013

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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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English (106)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
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 |

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.


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!


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.


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 |
This is the only Ian McEwan novel I have read and I have very mixed feelings about it. On the plus side, something about it kept me reading on and on, and it was very interesting to read about the energy crisis etc of the early 70s, which I lived through but cannot remember, but on the other hand...

Serena, the narrator, who works for MI5, was extremely passive and largely devoid of motivation of any kind and it was hard to see what she brought to the intelligence services. In some ways her portrayal seemed unconvincing (apart from the very moving moment where she cries on her father's chest), but this is all explained away by the ending, which has shades of the "and then I woke up and it had all been a dream" conceit about it. The ending annoyed me and made me feel manipulated. I also found the conclusion we were invited to draw about the ultimate resolution of Serena's relationship with Haley unlikely. There were many pointed references to things like shopping trolleys or decimal currency being new which read like heavy handed and clumsy attempts to anchor the novel in the early 70s. ( )
  pgchuis | Aug 24, 2014 |
McEwan has been a favorite writer of mine for many years. In the last few books he has experimented more and more with style. Like Solar, Sweet Tooth enters new and different territory for him. I found myself drifting away from the novel at times, but once I sat down to read the last half of the book, it jelled more for me. The ending is very nicely done and lifted my opinion of the book immensely.

It's a story that's takes place in the world of spies and literature, secret governmental programs and first novels, humor and deceit, oh, and love. Julie Myerson of The Observer, calls it "a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel", and she's got it pegged. The love stories of the female main character were not my cup of tea, but it got the plot to where it needed to be for the book's ending to work so well. The book's construction is most clever and works well with the subject matter. While not one of my favorite McEwan novels, this one does hold its own for clever.
  jphamilton | Jul 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 106 (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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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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