Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.
Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self.
About Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author of short stories and novels for adults, as well as The Daydreamer, a children’s novel illustrated by Anthony Browne. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His other award-winning novels are The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize.
Both the title and the tone make this initially seem to be an uncharacteristically light and playful novel from McEwan (Atonement,2002, etc.). Its narrator is a woman recounting her early 20s, some four decades after the fact, when she was recruited by Britain’s MI5 intelligence service to surreptitiously fund a young novelist who has shown some promise. After the two fall in love, inevitably, she must negotiate her divided loyalties, between the agency she serves and the author who has no idea that his work is being funded as an anti-Communist tool in the “soft Cold War.” Beautiful (as she recognizes such a character in a novel must be) and Cambridge-educated, Serena Frome seems perfect for the assignment of soliciting writer Tom Haley because, as one of her superiors puts it, “you love literature, you love your country.” The “Sweet Tooth” operation makes no attempt to control what its authors write and doesn’t reveal to them exactly who is funding them, but provides financial support for writers who have shown some resistance to fashionable radicalism. Though Serena’s reading tends toward “naive realism,” favoring novels where she would be “looking for a version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite old shoes,” the relationship between Tom’s fiction and his character, as well as the parallels between the creative inventions his job demands and those of hers, illuminate the complexities of life and art for Serena and the reader as well. “In this work the line between what people imagine and what’s actually the case can get very blurred. In fact that line is a big grey space, big enough to get lost in.” The “work” being discussed is undercover intelligence, but it could just as easily be literature. – Kirkus Reviews
Exclusive First Read: Ian McEwan’s ‘Sweet Tooth’
NPR Book Review – October 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
Ian McEwan’s latest novel is an exercise in deception — the author of Atonement has created an engaging book that’s as much suspenseful drama as it is romantic love story. At the center is Serena Frome, who after graduating from university as a math major (but with a reputation for being a lover of novels) lands a desk job with the intelligence agency, MI5. Early on Serena receives an assignment: She must pose as a representative for an arts foundation and begin to cultivate a young writer. Keeping her identity from him proves challenging. In this excerpt, Serena has met her novelist and has boarded the train home. She has not gotten a promise from him that he will work with her, and worse — she has found herself attracted to him. While she rides, she reads one of the stories that he has published. Sweet Tooth will be published Nov. 13. [Read the full article...]
The Spy Who Liked It Hot - ‘Sweet Tooth’ by Ian McEwan
The New York Times Book Review – November 4, 2012 (Excerpt)
Ian McEwan’s coy new novel, “Sweet Tooth,” begins with an intriguing confession from the narrator: “My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost 40 years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British security service. I didn’t return safely. Within 18 months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.”
So we start off knowing how Serena’s story will end. The mystery, it would appear, has to do only with the details of her mission, the identity of her lover, and the nature of her undoing. But what begins as a sort of cold war le Carré tale about a spy (and the psychology of spying) soon mutates into something else: a tricky postmodern entertainment that features, in the role of Serena’s lover, a writer who bears more than passing resemblance to the younger Mr. McEwan himself. [Read the full article...]
Ian McEwan’s ‘Sweet Tooth’ Pits Spy Vs. Scribe
NPR Book Review – November 10, 2012 (Excerpt)
Author Ian McEwan’s latest creation, Serena Frome, isn’t much of a spy. She got recruited into MI5 by her Cambridge history tutor, whom she wanted to dazzle. But he dumps her, and she never sees it coming. She winds up on the clerical side of the operation, cross-filing schemes and plots to stop terrorists, until one day, in the middle of the Cold War, she’s summoned to the fifth floor of the agency, where five wise men ask her to rank three British novelists according to their merit: Kingsley Amis, William Golding and David Storey.
She passes their test and is immediately handed her first secret mission: to cultivate and fund British intellectuals whose politics align with those of the government. Its code name is “Sweet Tooth,” and that’s also the title of McEwan’s new book.
McEwan won the Booker Prize for the novel Amsterdam in 1998, and has been shortlisted for many other books, including Atonement and Saturday. He joins NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss the history that inspired his new novel and why novelists and spies go so well together. [Read the full article...]
‘Sweet Tooth,’ by Ian McEwan
SFGate.Com Book Review – November 19, 2012 (Excerpt)
What could be a better match – Ian McEwan and a spy story? The English writer is a thinking person’s best-seller, whose intelligent, tightly plotted novels, narrated in careful prose, address the pressing social and political issues of our days. And whether in fictions set in the last century (“Atonement,” “On Chesil Beach”) or contemporary morality tales (“Saturday,” “Solar”), McEwan’s characters are never far away from the possibility of violence and the threat of deceit.
McEwan’s new novel, “Sweet Tooth,” takes place against a vivid 1970s England unraveling with strikes and fuel shortages, in the murky corridors of the British intelligence agency MI5. Anyone who has seen the recent film version of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” will have the right images to draw on – dim lighting, mustard-colored jackets, rooms full of smoke – as McEwan’s heroine, Serena Frome, takes a lowly post in MI5′s shabby offices shortly after graduating from Cambridge. [Read the full article...]
I Spy - ‘Sweet Tooth,’ by Ian McEwan
The New York Times Book Review – November 21, 2012 (Excerpt)
Ian McEwan’s work falls into two distinct periods. His early stories and novels were all cool post-1960s perversity, a high-end parade of deadpan macabre and kink and sideshow eccentricity: ghastly death, corpses and butchery, bestiality, incest and pedophilia, insanity, dwarves. But since he turned 50, around the turn of the century, he’s published lovely historical fiction about the disastrous sexual misunderstandings of youth (“Atonement,” “On Chesil Beach”), and contemporary fiction about an alternative-energy researcher (“Solar”) and a deeply sane, happily married surgeon (“Saturday”). It’s as if Johnny Rotten had changed into Bono. And in the same way I like both the Sex Pistols and U2, I’ve enjoyed the best of McEwan’s fiction in both modes.
“Sweet Tooth,” his new novel, is definitely mature McEwan, intermittently funny and much more sweet than bitter, about as entertaining as a very intelligent novel can be and vice versa. Even though the story is set inside a cold war espionage operation, no violence occurs — indeed, only one (secondary) character dies, of natural causes, and only after he’s exited the story. [Read the full article...]
THE LONDONDERRY AIR
Testament of an Ulster Gunman A Novel by Garrad Gawler
It all changed for Charles Cunningham, a Physics teacher at the local College of Technology in the County Derry town of Maddenstown, on a June afternoon in 1973 when a bomb exploded in his neighborhood. He answers an advertisement by the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, but, in the time to come, he will experience the consequences of his decisions, and how his involvement complicates matters with family and friends, Protestants and Catholics alike, to an unexpected degree.
With “The Londonderry Air – Testament of an Ulster Gunman” Garrad Gawler describes in minute detail and with an astonishing level of authenticity not only the inner workings of the Ulster Defence Regiment, but also the activities of underground paramilitary groups of regular citizens who planned and carried out the assassination of suspected Republican terrorists in their neighborhood.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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