Review: Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth
By Ian McEwan
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385536820, November 2012, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

Romance and espionage and McEwan’s gorgeous, lush prose.

The Rest of It:

Serena Frome is an intellectual sort. A true lover of contemporary fiction as well as the classics, yet when she attends Cambridge she studies math at the insistence of her mother. This is a fail in many ways as it’s definitely not her subject and because of it, she seems to find herself drawn to writer types which is how she ends up in an affair with a veteran of the British spy agency, MI5. Tony Canning is older and a skilled lover, which is an improvement over her orgasmically challenged ex-lover.

The days and nights spent with Tony are blissful as well as stimulating, but when he breaks it off abruptly, she chooses to focus on her career and ends up working for the MI5 as an entry-level spy assigned to a project called Sweet Tooth. The project involves secretly funding left-wing anticommunist writers and the first writer that she is assigned to work with, is Tom Haley. Haley, known primarily for his short stories is working on a novel. Serena, quite taken with his work agrees to meet with him and shortly thereafter, the two become lovers.

At first, Serena doesn’t see the harm in the relationship. They enjoy each other’s company and the weekends she spends with him mean quite a bit to her, but she doesn’t see it as a permanent thing. However, as he begins to work on his novel, she finds herself more involved with the writing itself and in turn, begins to see a side to Tom that she has not seen before, that of a permanent figure within her life and this of course causes her great stress because if he were to find out that she actually worked for MI5 and has been secretly funding his project, there’s no telling how he’d take the news.

I adored this book. It’s a romance for sure, but McEwan’s handling of these characters makes it so much more sophisticated than a traditional romance and then there is the added detail of espionage and the secrets that Serena must keep from Tom. The tension runs high for much of the book and I found myself flipping the pages eagerly to find out the outcome. But what I did not expect, was such a surprising, well-orchestrated ending! I can’t say that it took me totally by surprise, but the way in which it was written sure did. Once I saw where McEwan was going with the ending, I put the book down and saved it for when I could read the ending straight through, uninterrupted. It’s THAT kind of ending. You have to read it straight through to feel the impact of it.

If I were to compare this one to his other books, I’d say it was very similar in feel to On Chesil Beach. It’s a very intimate look at a couple in love and all of their imperfections and insecurities are laid out for the reader. I really enjoyed it and now want to buy a hard copy to add to my McEwan collection. Readers who like to read about the writing process will also enjoy this book because there is a lot of writing and re-working of the novel that Tom is working on.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via  Net Galley.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

36 thoughts on “Review: Sweet Tooth”

  1. I have the eGalley as well, and the print version came across my desk at the library yesterday as well, and now I read your review. I’m getting the feeling I need to read this soon. It does sound like one I’D enjoy. Great review.

  2. I am one of the very few people I know who loved OCB. You’ve definitely sold this one to me. I shall away and score a copy immediately. 🙂

    1. His characters are never warm and fuzzy. They are usually deeply flawed and a bit earthy if that makes any sense. The same can be said here, but the conflict presented here is too good to pass up.

  3. I’ve only read one McEwan book and I didn’t like it for some reason that I can’t even remember. This book sounds really interesting and I’m wanting to give McEwan’s writing another go, so this book might be it. Great post, Ti!

  4. I didn’t love Atonement the way everyone else did so I’ve been reluctant to try another of McEwan’s books. I may have to get this one, though – you’ve made it sound great.

    1. This one did not remind me of Atonement at all. That one is more focused on detail, since the truth is questionable. In this book, Serena’s feelings are right there and in your face. More up front and matter of fact.

  5. I love this author to bits, and have this book, which I haven’t managed to get to yet. It does sound very interesting, and rather intoxicating, especially the ending. I will need to make time for this one so that I can talk to you about it. A great review of what purports to be a great book!

  6. I’ve liked some of his work but not all, so I never know where I’m going to fall. I’m encouraged by your satisfaction with his ending though…

  7. I need to get it together and actually read something by McEwan! I feel so ashamed that I haven’t read him – or read anything by McCarthy for that matter… I know they are very different writers but they are on the must-read list, both very productive and important. Great review!

    1. Don’t feel bad! I’ve never read Jane Austen! I know! I need to give up my book blogger hat soon if I don’t get one read pretty quick.

  8. I had no idea what this book was about. I’m not sure why either, since McEwan is an author I like. And this is a book I definitely want to read. It’s got that British thing, MI5, spy work, a literature loving main character and more wonderful things not to mention a good ending. I really enjoyed your review, Ti. The fact that yo want to buy a HC copy for your book collection tells me so much.

  9. Sounds like a good one. I’m not too keen with On Chesil Beach, but this book has a stronger story. My fave is Atonement. How does this one compare to Atonement? I know, it’s just hard to compare diff. books by the same writer.

    1. Atonement was a more powerful read all around. Sweet Tooth is really sort of quiet until you get to the end. But this is the first book he’s written with a female protagonist since Atonement, so a lot people do try to compare the two, but they are totally different in feel.

    1. It’s hard to say. I’ve read a few of his books. I still think I enjoyed Atonement the most; that it was the most powerful. I took a lit class and we picked it to pieces and I still loved it. But Sweet Tooth is a close, close 2nd.

  10. I read mixed review about this book. Glad you such a McEwan fan, I have loads of his books, just need to play catch-up after “Atonement”, “On Chesil Beach” and “Enduring Love”!

  11. My husband liked this book last year as well, which he stole from me before I could read it, argh! I loved Atonement and Amsterdam and am a big fan of McEwan’s all the way. I need to read more of his. And will get to this one sometime. He’s awesome ….

  12. OCB is one of my favorite books of all time. While I don’t think this lives up to that, I did love it and gave it a 9 out of 10. And I agree with you that this is the OCB McEwan rather then the other kind of McEwan.

  13. I checked this one out from the library, renewed it twice, and will now have to return it without finishing it. The action was slow to develop and Serena’s early relationship choices turned me off to her as a character. However, your review and everyone’s comments have convinced me to check it out again in the future. I do usually like McEwan.

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