About the Book
Title: Sweet Tooth
Author: Ian McEwan
Publication: Jonathan Cape, London, 2012
Summary: The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. Britain is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism. Serena Frome, in her final year at Cambridge, is being groomed for MI5. Serena is sent on a secret mission - Operation Sweet Tooth - which brings her into the world of Tom Haley, 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? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage - trust no one.
What I Think
The best thing about Ian McEwan's spy novel, Sweet Tooth, is the ending. The last line (I won't give the game away!) changes the whole feel, perspective and shape of the book. This is clever as there are virtually no clues along the way, yet it doesn't feel contrived, nor do you feel tricked. Hats off to McEwan for a little bit of genius.
Having said all that I don't think this is his best book. I haven't read everything by McEwan, not by a long stretch, but I've read enough to know that some of his books I love (Atonement, Chesil Beach) and some I don't (Enduring Love).
In the first paragraph he tells us the entire story.
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.
This is a risk; a risk that the reader will switch off, or lose interest altogether. Or, hopefully, have the counter effect that you really want to know how it all unfolds. This was how I viewed it, although I have to say that Sweet Tooth was similar to Waiting for Sunrise (a book by William Boyd that I read recently) in the sense that the first half was mediocre and only the second half thrilling. Both Boyd and McEwan are great, highly-skilled authors and in both cases it was worth persevering, but I don't think that makes for a great book. Only a good one.
About the Author
Ian McEwan is the author of two collections of stories and twelve previous novels, including Enduring Love, Amsterdam, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1998, Atonement and, most recently, Solar.