Friday, January 25, 2013

Sweet Tooth - McEwan

Sweet Tooth
Ian McEwan

Serena Frome (Rhymes with plume) is a reader. When her mother convinces her, in a moment of unexpected feminism, to do a Maths Degree at Cambridge instead of English elsewhere, little does she know that she is about to meet a man that will not only have her reading non fiction, but convince her to join MI5, and eventually become an agent (of sorts) by recruiting a writer for Sweet Tooth.

Ian McEwan seems to specialize in novel's I really want to read but end up being to tedious to finish. I've put up fights with Saturday and Atonement over the years but  Sweet Tooth is the first time my fight through McEwan was successful. Except it really was a fight. His characters were paper thin and even for a short 300 pages there was barely enough plot to carry it.

Serena had so much potential to be an interesting character. She's an avid reader and romanticizes writers, two traits most of us in the bookish world can relate too. Unfortunately her preoccupation with every man who enters her life, and the near constant reminder of her beauty tiring. The longer I spent in Serena's mind the more I tired of hearing about petty fights and train rides. The novel is written in first person, and aside from some petty musings on Serena's part, this was a compelling stylistic choice.

The bigger disappointment was the lack of "spying" and "thrills" in a spy novel set at the heart of the British secret service  near the end of the Cold War.  Sweet Tooth reads more like an episode of Mad Men that just focuses on the secretaries than a James Bond novel. Over the course of 300 pages there was definitely more paperwork and inner office drama than espionage. Oh, and the ever present problems Serena was having in her love life.  Can't forget that.

Overall I was not impressed by Sweet Tooth. I occasionally enjoyed Serena's insight into the world. There are plenty of thins about her that make her hard to tolerate but McEwan really succeeded in developing her as a reader, someone who loves books and has taken her literary education into her own hands.  I was also a fan of the final chapter. I could see how it could be divisive, however, I thought it pulled together the story nicely and actually made me think more of all the major characters.  In the end I'm glad I used a gift card to buy this, but if you don't put to much stock in the "spy" part of the plot summery you may not be disappointed.

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