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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
A New York Times Notable Book
A Seattle Times Best Book of 2012
Ian McEwan’s novel of love and espionage is a wickedly funny and devilishly clever tale in which nothing is quite as it seems.
It is 1972; unrest and terrorism are increasing in Britain, and the Cold War has devolved into cultural skirmishing. Serena Frome — beautiful, politically naïve, and a compulsive reader of novels — has just completed her maths degree at Cambridge and taken an intelligence job with MI5. There she lands an assignment in Operation Sweet Tooth: the secret support of anti-Communist writers. But before long she falls in love with her unwitting target, Tom Haley, an aspiring novelist. As Serena navigates her bosses’ suspicions, her colleagues’ resentments, and her lover’s literary ambitions, how long can she maintain her cover story and keep all of them deceived? And is she the only one with a secret agenda? In this superbly witty story of betrayal and intrigue, McEwan dizzyingly dramatizes the fraught relationship between fiction and truth.
"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
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.
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.
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