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Sweet Toothby Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan's latest novel is a Cold War–era spy tale that is not exactly what it appears to be. After suffering through a couple of bad love affairs, Serena, a beautiful 20-something university graduate, stumbles into a job with MI5 and is initially thrilled — until she realizes women only hold lowly clerical positions. Still suffering the effects of a demoralizing breakup, she takes the job anyway. Yet soon she does get an undercover assignment: Sweet Tooth is the code name for a loosely reasoned plan to financially back struggling artists by giving them a stipend and letting them produce art, with the proviso that the funding is coming from another source. (Having the secret service pay a writer to influence others seems too close to buying public opinion.) Serena's job is to bestow this welcoming news to a struggling writer, Tom Healey, who is trapped by the drudgery of a full-time job as a university professor. Yes, she falls for Tom, and yes, she keeps her identity and the source of his new funding from him. It seems clear where the novel will go, but I guess I was fooled once again by the amazing mind of Ian McEwan.
His inexplicable ability to crawl into a character and expose every flaw, every rationalization, every weakness, yet at the same time, expose their vulnerability and insecurity, is just flat-out astonishing. He doesn't tell the story so much as let you live inside it. His setting, his characters, and his tale feel as if they are your own — so perfectly do they dovetail into your world. It's uncanny. After reading my eighth Ian McEwan novel, I'm convinced that he just gets better and better. The man is at the absolute top of his game. Let me just say that Ian McEwan is the greatest writer living today.
Synopses & Reviews
In this stunning new novel, Ian McEwan’s first female protagonist since Atonement is about to learn that espionage is the ultimate seduction.
Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.
Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self.
"McEwan goes for laughs in this cold war spoof in which Serena Frome, one time math whiz, struggles through Cambridge and graduates in 1972 with an embarrassing third. For reasons never satisfactorily explained, a professor and former MI5 operative recruits her as a spy. Serena's soon in love, not for the last time in the story, no matter that he's 54, long married and sickly, or that she's 21, gorgeous, and in a relationship. She's a voracious reader, and her familiarity with contemporary fiction earns her an assignment to persuade a writer with anti-Soviet leanings to abandon academia and write full-time, supported by funding whose source he can never know. Espionage fans won't find much that's credible, and fans of political farce might be surprised by a narrative less focused on lampooning MI5 than on mocking (mostly female) readers. Given the nonstop wisecracks, the book might be most satisfying if read as sheer camp. A twist confirms that the misogyny isn't to be taken seriously, but Serena's intellectual inferiority is a joke that takes too long to reach its punch line. McEwan devotees may hope that in his next novel he returns to characterizations deeper than the paper they're printed on. Agent: The Georges Borchardt Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A subtly and sweetly subversive novel [that is a] masterful manipulation of the relationship(s) between fiction and truth....Britain’s foremost living novelist has written a book as drily funny as it is thoughtful." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"A sublime novel about novels, about writing them and reading them and the spying that goes on in doing both....Rich and enjoyable." Financial Times
"McEwan writes with his usual clinical precision, brilliantly evoking the London of dingy Camden flats, the three-day week and IRA atrocities. His assumption of a female persona is pitch-perfect." Daily Mail
“McEwan is one of the most gifted literary storytellers alive.” James Wood, The New Republic
“[McEwan’s] finely honed prose is a deep pleasure to experience.” Chicago Sun-Times
“McEwan is in the first tier of novelists writing in English today....He has achieved a complete mastery of his craft.” The New York Observer
The incomparable Ian McEwan masterfully entwines espionage and love as only he can in a wickedly intriguing new novel.
The year is 1972. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight against Communism goes on, especially in England's cultural circles.
Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has just completed her maths degree at Cambridge. Her brief affair with one of her professors leads to an interview with MI5. Serena lands an assignment in Operation Sweet Tooth: the funding of artists and writers with whom MI5's political views align. Her "target" is Tom Healey, a promising young writer. First she falls in love with his stories, then she begins to fall in love with the man. When his novella wins a prestigious prize, the deceit becomes too much for Serena to bear. But before she can confess, her cover is blown, scandalizing the literary world and crippling MI5's efforts. Who blew the whistle and why? Ian McEwan will keep you guessing in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal, intrigue, and love.
About the Author
Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of fourteen books, including the novels Solar; On Chesil Beach; Saturday; Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He lives in England. www.ianmcewan.com
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