Synopsis- Serena Frome, the beautiful mathematician daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge before taking a job with MI5 in London. The year is 1972: Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism; the Cold War has entered a moribund phase but the fight goes on and British Intelligence hesitates at little to infuence hearts and minds. MI5 sends Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, on a secret mission that brings her to Tom Healy, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? What is deception and who is deceiving whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage — trust no one. Ian McEwan’s mastery is more dazzling than ever in this superb story of intrigue, love… and mutual betrayal.
Review- As a fan of Ian McEwen’s former novel, Atonement, I picked up Sweet Tooth while I was in London hoping for a juicy post-war novel. While Sweet Tooth did have the potential plot-wise but it left me feeling rather underwhelmed.
In fact the part I enjoyed the most was the end of the novel in Tom’s letter for Serena which was the most entertaining and explained a lot… but it came a little late for me. The pacing was a letdown; for the most part the story is quite slow. There’s a lot of introspection on the part of the protagonist which was always going to be a risky move for McEwen. She’s quite self-absorbed (understandably in first viewpoint) but it means we aren’t privy to the inner thoughts or intentions of other characters in the story. The only insight we get into Tom (apart from Serena’s perceptions) is through the stories he has written that Serena reads and this provides a warped, perverted sense of Tom. The undercover role that Serena is recruited into is quite benign and really the only conflict it presents is in keeping it a secret from Tom (boyfriend) but the tension doesn’t reach the peak that it should have to keep the reader engrossed. What I did like was the writer’s stories, how Serena connects with him through these and the blurry line between reality and fiction in the characters he creates.
The relationship with the older man in the beginning of the story felt too dragged out and sets up the reader to have a vested interest in this man, who later becomes benign and then the writer is introduced. The role of this man and the part he plays in the events that unfold make more sense later in the novel, but again provides little conflict in the sense of there being any impending danger or risk for Serena.
“It was okay”
Sweet Tooth can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers