Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: my view

I finished reading Sweet Tooth feeling disappointed. To my mind it falls well short of Atonement, but is better than Solar.

It began so well and Ian McEwan’s writing is smooth, eloquent and richly descriptive. I couldn’t fail to visualize the scenes and for the most part the characters were distinct and believable, but I really couldn’t warm to any of them – purely a personal reaction, and one that shouldn’t detract from the novel.

Set mainly in the 1970s, it’s written in the first person as Selena Frome, looks back from forty years later. The first paragraph reveals that she was sent on a secret mission by the British Security Services; the mission failed, she was sacked and her lover was ruined. From then on the novel expands on this plot. But this is not primarily a spy story, nor even a love story, although there is a lot about that and about the politics of the 70s (which dragged a bit), it’s about deception, about writers and writing and readers and reading, with multiple stories within stories. I should have enjoyed that, but it all fell a bit flat and contrived. And I really disliked the ‘unexpected twist in the tale’ at the end.

KevinfromCanada has written a more detailed analysis of Sweet Tooth, which expresses just what I felt about it. And for more positive reviews there are those in The Observer and The Telegraph, and for a slightly more reserved look at the book there is this article in The Independent.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (21 Aug 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0224097377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224097376
  • Source: my own copy
  • My Rating: 3/5 (because I liked the writing)

5 thoughts on “Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: my view”

  1. I really didn’t enjoy this book either, so much so that I didn’t want to review it on my blog. I’m glad I’m not alone – I thought I must be missing something!

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  2. Margaret – Sorry to hear this one disappointed you. I’d been wondering whether or not I should read this one actually. Perhaps I’ll wait…

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  3. I’ve only read one book by Ian McEwan, it was years ago, possibly it was his first book, and I disliked the ending so much that I’ve never tried reading any others.

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