Book Review: Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan

Title: Sweet Tooth
Author: Ian McEwan
ISBN: 9780385536820
Pages: 320
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

It’s the 1970s in Cold War Britain and Serena Frome is attending Cambridge to study math. She would have preferred English, as reading is her passion, but her mother had strong opinions on the viability of an English degree. Serena is recruited by MI5, Britain’s counterpart to the American CIA, and due to her devotion to the written word, she’s put on a program which secretly funds writers whose politics align with the government’s anti-communist agenda. But as Serena gets to know one of the writers, she begins to wonder whether she’s doing the right thing and how long she can keep up her façade.

Review:

Sweet Tooth is a novel in layers. On the surface, it appears to be the simple story of a girl working a job and falling in love, but it’s so much more than that. First, there’s Serena. She’s complex and has immeasurable depth. McEwan includes so many details about Serena which might seem trivial at first, but he uses them to build up her character. As a result, the reader comes to know her intimately; they see her intelligence and wit and feel what she feels. It’s incredible to get under the skin of a character so fully, yet McEwan does it with seemingly effortless grace.

The story of Sweet Tooth starts off slowly. Readers are introduced to Serena and understand her circumstances before she joins MI5 (this is a novel in which the process of discovery is half the delight of reading it; as a result, I’ve tried to be as cryptic as possible about the details). And joining MI5 doesn’t mean that Serena is zipping off to exotic destinations and getting into car chases. No, this is a quieter, more subtle novel. It’s a book of literary suspense; the stakes may seem small to the outside world, but to Serena, they are everything.

At its core, Sweet Tooth is actually a book about books, about the pleasure of the written word. It’s about the manipulation of story and characters, how an author seems to have complete control over their work but yet does not because of his or her connection with the reader. It’s a love letter to the craft of authorship, and it’s
incredibly well done. Writers and readers will each find something different to love within this novel’s pages; it’s quietly, brilliantly executed.

As always, McEwan’s prose is simply flawless in Sweet Tooth; it’s almost not worth mentioning in a review because his writing is so reliably good in every novel he writes. If you’re looking for a novel of quiet suspense, a book driven by characters and an exploration of love and betrayal, this is a great novel to pick up.

Other books by Ian McEwan:

Saturday
Solar

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Comments

  1. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this :)

  2. I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this :)

  3. The minute I arrived at this sentence in your review: “Sweet Tooth is actually a book about books, about the pleasure of the written word. It’s about the manipulation of story and characters…” I was sold!

  4. The minute I arrived at this sentence in your review: “Sweet Tooth is actually a book about books, about the pleasure of the written word. It’s about the manipulation of story and characters…” I was sold!

  5. I just picked this one up because of my love of McEwan, so I am glad to hear that it doesn’t disappoint. It sounds like it’s very layered and complex, and I love the fact that you limited your review to excise spoilers. I can’t wait to read this one!!

  6. I just picked this one up because of my love of McEwan, so I am glad to hear that it doesn’t disappoint. It sounds like it’s very layered and complex, and I love the fact that you limited your review to excise spoilers. I can’t wait to read this one!!

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  13. Glad to hear this was a worthwhile read! McEwan can be rather hit or miss for me, but I liked the sound of this one and have a copy waiting to be picked up. Sounds like an interesting, multifaceted story!

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  19. I keep hearing good thinks about this book, so now it’s on my list! Thanks, Swapna. Joyous holidays to you and yours!

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  21. Great review! I’ve been wondering about this one. Can any McEwan live up to Atonement? Sounds like he explores some of the same themes about characters and authorship.

  22. Great review! I’ve been wondering about this one. Can any McEwan live up to Atonement? Sounds like he explores some of the same themes about characters and authorship.

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