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)

Book Beginnings …

I’m currently reading  Ian McEwan’s latest book, Sweet Tooth. At the moment I’m still quite near the beginning of the book.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to read Sweet Tooth. I like Ian McEwan’s books, although I wasn’t that keen on his previous book, Solar, but this one looked good when I picked it up from one of the display tables in a local bookshop. Set in 1972, it’s about Serena Frome, the daughter of an Anglican bishop, who is a compulsive reader of novels. She works for MI5 in a very junior position, until she is assigned to a ‘special mission’ called ‘Sweet Tooth’, which brings her into the literary world of a promising young writer.

I’m hoping it’s going to be as good as Atonement, one of my favourite books.  Like Atonement, Sweet Tooth is both a love story and a book about writing.

It begins:

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. (page 1)

For more Book Beginnings on Friday see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.