Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sweet Tooth By Ian McEwan



It is a spy novel.  Set in England in the 1970s it is a novel of the creative cold war. Our narrator, Serena is beautiful, bright, could read three to four novels a week and went to Cambridge, at her mother's insistance, to study Maths.  Where she found that she was perfectly adequate at maths at a school level but poor at a Cambridge level; however, she managed to scrape a third, before beginning a summer romance with a history professor who reshaped her knowledge of British history, prepping her for an interview with MI5 which he would arrange.

She soon finds that working for MI5 isn't as exciting as it sounds.  Mostly dull office work, where office friendships aren't encouraged.  Until she is invited to take part in an operation named 'Sweet Tooth'.   A plan to fund emerging writers with strong anti-Soviet views, strongly based on the CIA’s infamous involvement with Encounter magazine, as the characters acknowledge.  The cultural cold war was very much present in the 70s, as people waited for the next Cuban Missile Crisis to strike.  Serena is paired with a novelist, TH Hardy, who is based at Sussex University (McEwan's alma mater).  It isn't long until they are smitten.  With weekend trips to Brighton, waking up to the sound of Haley's typewriter as he writes his first novel - a post apocalyptic nightmare - exactly the type of thing MI5 were hoping to avoid.


McEwan examines what it is to be a reader, the power which authors have in creating 'reality' for the reader.  What do we look for when we read books?  Serena speeds through books looking for glimpses of her own life - her family, her education, her past lovers.  She is interested only in the fate of characters resembling somebody she recognises.  I think we're all a bit guilty of doing something like this - we all expect something from the books we read, hence why we return to the same genre or author time and time again.   (let me know what you think you read for!) 


It is as much a spy novel as it is a historical one - with detailed insight into every day life in Britain in the 70s with the prospect of a three day week and fuel crises.  There is romance, intrigue, twists and turns.  One thing - as soon as you finish reading this you will want to start over again.  So just make sure you don't have tons of university reading lined up or something (like I do...whoops!) 


 
 
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5 comments

trona said...

I'm currently reading this and thoroughly enjoying it! there's a lot to get your (sweet) teeth into (sorry!)

Bookworm said...

This one sounds very interesting! Great review - I have to get my hands on a copy :-)

smittenkittenorig said...

This sounds delicious. I need to add this to my list. Characters are just about everything to me when I read, so I'm interested in Serena's reading habit.

Rosie said...

Just discovered your blog so been looking at some past posts. This book looks really excellent. Thanks for the review. I love historical and crime/spy novels, so this will definitely go on my to-read list!

Cath Brookes said...

Entertaining and clever, I couldn't put the book down. What Escher does in his art, McEwan accomplishes in this novel. I was surprised and spun round until the end and loved the experience.

Cath Brookes (TRUSTprice - Software Download)

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