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Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Ian McEwan

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1,8811253,660 (3.54)126
Title:Sweet Tooth
Authors:Ian McEwan
Info:London, Jonathan Cape
Collections:Your library
Tags:borrowed from Karen, MI5, undercover operation, literature

Work details

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (2012)

  1. 11
    The Unwitting by Ellen Feldman (RidgewayGirl)
    RidgewayGirl: The same general topic from a different angle.

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Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
This is probably not Ian McEwan's best book, but it is still very, very good and a very enjoyable read. The plot is very clever with lots of twists and turns as befits a setting within the world of MI5. The female protagonist is engaging, if occasionally irritating and her male friends are distinctively drawn. It has taken me a long time to get around to reading this; given it is January I resolve to read him more speedily, ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
Sweet Tooth is a fast read and contains lots of twisty turns, as any spy novel should. But this one also contains lots of literary twisty turns: a protagonist who is an omnivorous speed-reader; snippets about the books she reads; culture as propaganda; a bevy of interior short stories; and the big reveal at the end (which I won't disclose) that is yet another literary hand-spring.

One small aside. When this book first came out, I recall reading somewhere an editorial claiming this book is a poster child of misogyny. Being female and having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I gotta say that I find McEwan's descriptions of the role, treatment, and thoughts of women at that time to be spot on. We should not shoot the messenger. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
ok, kind of a clever ending and beautiful prose but couldn't McEwan have come up with a more compelling intrigue for the protagonist to be involved in? ( )
  ghefferon | Jun 28, 2015 |
Serena Frome, in 1972 England with the waging Cold War, finds herself to be an unlikely spy for MI5. An initiative codenamed “Sweet Tooth” funds writers whose ideals and writings align with the government thus indirectly manipulate the cultural norm of society. The funding is diverted through a foundation unbeknownst to the authors. Chosen for both her beauty and her fondness for literature, Serena successfully recruits Tom Haley, an aspiring writer with the potential to spread anti-communism messages. She also falls in love with him, and it’s a complex web of deceit and love.

I want to like this novel more, but the heavy handed application of politics, right wing messages, and sometimes history (even though I like history) made it taste like a cupcake with too much frosting. It didn’t read like a historical fiction nor a spy novel nor a love story. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Weeding through the words, I liked it most when it was about Serena and all her relationships leading up to Tom.

Even for Serena, I started with wanting to slap some sense into her – first sleeping with multiple clumsy boys where she “lost my virginity in my first term, several times over it seemed”, then hooking up with an older married man more than twice her age even though she’s disgusted by his aged body, chased after her boss, and finally her assignee too. Yet it became evident that it’s the classic daddy issue – where her own dad is a small town Bishop and is distant towards his own daughters. She’s consistently seeking approval from older men. I hated seeing her hurt as a result.

While I don’t think I’d recommend this book in general, I liked it for myself with its many references to books, poetries, authors. It also helps that I tend to enjoy Ian McEwan’s writing and his musings such as this on love, “Box his socks? I would have knelt to wash his feet. With my tongue!” How does this not amuse you?

Some Quotes:

On Literature:
“Novels without female characters were a lifeless desert.”

On Sex – and the desire to please:
“He was truly attentive and skillful, and could keep going for as long as I wanted, and beyond, until I could bear no more. But his own orgasms were elusive, despite my efforts, and I began to suspect that there was something he wanted me to be saying or doing. He wouldn’t tell me what it was. Or rather, he insisted that there was nothing to tell. I didn’t believe him. I wanted him to have a secret and shameful desire that only I could satisfy. I wanted to make this lofty, courteous man all mine. Did he want to smack by backside, or have me smack his? Was he wanting to try on my underwear? This mystery obsessed me……. I wanted to help him, and I was genuinely curious. I was also troubled by the thought that I might be failing him….”

On Aging – only 44 years old!!
“I was a little put out first time to see what fifty-four years could do to a body. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, bending to remove a sock. His poor naked foot looked like a worn-out old shoe. I saw folds of flesh in improbable places, even under his arms. How strange, that in my surprise, quickly suppressed, it didn’t occur to me that I was looking at my own future. I was twenty-one. What I took to be the norm – taut, smooth, supple – was the transient special case of youth. To me, the old were a separate species, like sparrows or foxes. And now, what I would give to be fifty-four again! The body’s largest organ bears the brunt – the old no longer fit their skin. It hangs off them, like a room-for-growth school blazer. Or pajamas.”

On the “breast man” – I may have Lol’d:
“… And too obsessed by my breasts, which were lovely then, I’m sure, but it didn’t feel right to have a man the Bishop’s age fixated in a near infantile way, virtually nursing there with a strange whimpering sound…”

On the handling of books – a no, no for me too:
“…use to tell me off for leaving books lying around open and face down. It ruined the spine, causing a book to spring open a t a certain page, which was a random and irrelevant intrusion on a writer’s intentions and another reader’s judgment.”

On the British – I definitely Lol’d on this one thinking of a couple of Brit’s at work:
“I’m a coward in important confrontations. I suspected we would both choose the English solution and pretend that the conversation had never happened.”

On being a reader – I’ve certainly felt an invasion of privacy even reading book reviews:
“I was discovering that the experience of reading is skewed when you know, or are about to know, the author. I had been inside a stranger’s mind. Vulgar curiosity made me wonder if every sentence confirmed or denied or masked a secret intention…”

On reading poetry – I still suck at it…
“... There’s nothing wrong with your memory. Now try to remember the feelings.”

On that first night – I still remember this with a certain someone on May 23rd:
“… We’d been talking for hours, pretending that we weren’t thinking constantly of this moment. We were like pen friends who exchange chatty then intimate letters in each other’s language, then meet for the first time and realize they must begin again…” ( )
1 vote varwenea | May 28, 2015 |
FABULOUS plot - could not put it down. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 2, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 114 (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
To Christopher Hitchens
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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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