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Sweet Tooth is a compelling, intriguing listen that grabs hold immediately; from first sentence to last satisfying twist. Like McEwan's excellent book "Atonement," the author's pitch perfect prose unveils a multi-layered story that explores universal human themes of secrecy, loyalty, betrayal and identity.
Set in 1970s London, "rather gorgeous" recent Cambridge grad Serena Frome tells her story with some self awareness and a wry sense of humor. She describes her teen-age self as "the first person to truly understand Orwell's 1984." Recovering from an abrupt break-up, Serena throws herself into a low level job with MI-5. Disenchanted with the mundane nature of the work, Serena quickly agrees to participate in a covert cultural program that funds young writers in an effort to win the "war of ideas" taking place in Cold War Europe. Of course the romantically vulnerable Serena falls for her target, author T.C. Healy, but luckily the ensuing story isn't formulaic or predictable.
As a slavish admirer of LeCarre (well, truth be told my passionate secret affair is really with George Smiley) I reveled in the scenes set at MI-5 headquarters. McEwan's MI-5 was so evocative of "The Circus" that I almost expected Connie Sachs to lumber around the corner, god bless her. Some of the darkness in the story reminded me of John Fowles, as did the novel's unconventional structure. Interesting cameos by real life literati added fun and rang true: Martin Amis buys dejected author Healy a whisky, and Ian Hamilton offers words of wisdom to an agitated Serena.
Experienced actress Juliet Stevenson does a stellar job narrating. I especially enjoyed the way she voiced an American ex-CIA agent. Cringe worthy only because I have a feeling we really do sound like that to the world. She was dead on and a treat to hear.
Finally, the idea of "a contract between a book's author and its reader" is explored in various interesting ways. Afraid of being manipulated or feeling tricked, I steeled myself for disappointing ending. Thankfully, this book's author seems to truly like and respect his reader. Apart from an almost (just a teensy bit) Poirot-like explanatory soliloquy, McEwan keeps his end of the bargain and then some. "Sweet Tooth" is wonderfully thought provoking; the kind of novel you just want to mull over for awhile before beginning anything else.
76 of 78 people found this review helpful
Structurally complicated with beautiful language McEwan's spy novel flows and ebbs on several levels. He is writing about a woman spying on a writer who is an obvious stand-in for himself. McEwan *almost* pulls this off, but the weight (or forced feint) of the structure almost sinks the novel in the middle.
Essentially, 'Sweet Tooth' is about love, deception, politics and art. It reminds me of earlier post modern novels by Carey (My Life as a Fake), Atwood (Blind Assassin) and Gaddis (Recognitions) where the authors seems to be playing with not just the story but the whole relationship between author, narrator and reader. A good novel, just not a great McEwan novel.
32 of 34 people found this review helpful