Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth

A Novel

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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.
ISBN: 9780385536837
Branch Call Number: EBOOK TEXT
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Alternative Title: OverDrive


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Mar 31, 2020

DGG: I’ll read just about anything McEwan writes, even though I don’t enjoy all of it. This book, however – the story of a Cambridge student who becomes an MI5 recruit in 1972 — captivated me. The surprise ending made the book even more powerful in retrospect.

Feb 26, 2020

Very disappointing.
This is the first book I've read by the author, who I have heard good things about. This book is dedicated to Christopher Hitchens whom I greatly admire, and that gave me high hopes that this would be an enjoyable read.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. I read the book halfway through and then got so disgusted I skipped to the end. Upon reading the last few pages I'm glad I didn't waste anymore time on this drivel.

The plot is nothing but a long drawn out story of a young woman's life trying to find meaning and love in Cold War England. I would not recommend this to anyone unless they were extremely bored and had no other books available.

Mar 07, 2019

This is a book with a flaw. It purports to be about propaganda and literature: both literature as a form of propaganda and propaganda in other forms. Our protagonist, Serena (!) is first educated about ruling class propaganda in The Times of London and elsewhere by her left-leaning tutor, who turns out to be a Russian agent. Characters spin their stories in their own way and have their favoured versions of the truth. Serena gradually learns to doubt the surface messages. She is brought into MI5, and becomes part of a low-level propaganda campaign, providing a disguised income to Tom, a promising novelist who writes about freedom and creativity. Part of Serena’s indoctrination is a review of the efforts of the Comintern and CIA propaganda branches to support their own literary favourites. In the end, the whole scheme comes apart, and as readers we have to re-evaluate the story of Serena.
Serena is more than a bit naïve, a shallow but voluminous reader who slowly learns to appreciate more literary writing. She is taken with Tom’s creative stories, sometimes quite moved by them, although the summaries she recounts seem rather bizarre, more like academic writing exercises than actually convincing stories. Serena falls for Tom and they have an affair, although she worries about how to tell him that she is a fraud who has been undermining his professional credibility. When Serena’s ex-lover brings Tom a different story that undermines her credibility, Tom turns the tables on her and makes up his own story. In the end, we see how creative story-telling is more successful than bureaucratically inspired propaganda, even in the hands of a literary writer.
All this is very post-modern, questioning the meaning of storytelling and point-of-view, which could be an interesting twist, although hardly a new idea.
The flaw, which I felt before reaching the various plot turns, is that it’s just not that interesting. The characters are sketched with little detail or depth, and their crises are not engaging. The plot seems to have so little at stake that it’s not interesting. The occasional background details of the social unrest of Britain in the early 1970s actually sparked more interest for me than the central story line. So it undermines the message that creative fiction is better than government propaganda when the creative fiction that I’m reading feels flat and boring.
On a side note, the story line seems to challenge the notion of artificial limitations on writers and that writers can’t appropriate someone else’s voice. McEwan writes in the voice of a woman as if to show that it can be done successfully. In fact, the voice of Serena seems convincing enough as a young woman in 1970s London, but the fact that the story she is describing isn’t very successful actually seems to support the notion that writing in the voice of another is inherently limiting and incomplete.
My reaction to the book is totally subjective, and perhaps others would react more deeply to the intensity of the love affair and the inherent conflict and loss that threaten it. But in the end, it seems to me to be another thought experiment that doesn’t really work rather than a successful novel. (For a thought experiment that does work even though much wilder than this one, I both enjoyed and bought into Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)

Nov 15, 2018

Very clever and very well written in the usual McEwan manner. Not as good as Nutshell but way better than Amsterdam. The ending in Amsterdam, I found, was farcical, whereas the ending in Sweet Tooth is very clever but both books share his good writing

Apr 26, 2018

Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an American bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the flight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere.
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a “secret mission” that brings her into the literary 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. (Description slightly edited from the hardcover book flap, presumably a description provided by the publisher.)

I decided to read this book after Daniel Silva's House of Spies, which I had read immediately preceding this book, briefly mentioned the book.

This book is interesting and obviously well written; however, it's very “talky,” and nothing really happens.

Wait. That's really not fair. Things do happen, except they're slow to develop, which probably why Sweet Tooth is such an interesting book and why Ian McEwan is such an interesting writer. I'd like to read some more of his books.

Mar 26, 2017

One of those books where I didn’t try too hard to *get it* and simply let it wash over me – a mostly enjoyable experience with this loosely-espionage love story. But then, I like wily, craft-y writers who loop back with metafiction, even though we think we know where we’re headed with the outcome stated in the opening paragraph. Writers writing about literature and writing. And secrets, deception, betrayal, seduction, who’s who thrown in. Fun. "… the awesome power of the imagination …" (p.194)

Dec 20, 2016

A good read that can be annoying at times. Doesn't leaving you feeling much, but it's fun.

Jun 25, 2016

This English author tells a story involving a young attractive girl who becomes a spy for the secret police in England.
Following her experience in investigating a writer professor whom the government suspects is a socialist, is a very compelling read.

Jun 25, 2016

Classic McEwan, with a big twist I just didn't see coming. Left me reeling for days. Highly recommend.

Jun 09, 2015

An interesting story but ultimately disappointing. A young woman - beautiful & smart - meets a university professor through her present boyfriend, begins an affair, is groomed for her MI5 interview, affair ends, gets hired, an infatuated co-worker works against her ... I didn't really feel much character advancement, tension, or involvement with the people. Not his best.

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Dec 02, 2013

...was deliberately and systematically boring me to drive me away. It was insensitive of me not to notice, poor fellow, he was having to overreach himself and it was not a good performance, hopelessly overdone.


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