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.
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