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