[467]: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Vintage | May 9th, 2013 |
| Paperback, 384 pages | Adult Fiction
| Historical | Romance |Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


Let’s see… MI5. Spy fiction. Historical. Written by a critically acclaimed author. I knew going in that I’m a little bit over my head with this novel. But I’ve always been a believer of trying new things, and while McEwan is a pretty popular author in the literary circle, this is my introduction to his world.

His writing is something that one needs to get used to in order to fully appreciate what you’ve signed up for. Unfortunately for me, the formality of his narrative couldn’t keep me drawn into the story.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

It’s the 70s, the Cold War is in full swing, and close to home, Britain is under civil unrest. Serena Frome didn’t have a clue what she wants to do in her life. English Literature is out, since her mother – one of feminist values – dissuaded her against taking the lazy way out. After a stint in Cambridge majoring in maths, a number of forces and influences would land her a position in Britain’s covert intelligence agency.  Unexpectedly, she’ll find out that a former lover was recruiting her all along.

Her first mission was Sweet Tooth; an operation which focuses on finding the ten best writers England has to offer, but would have to have proven skepticisms about the developing Eastern utopias in Europe. Her path would cross with one Tom Haley; a writer she’s commissioned to pursue. Serena, being a compulsive reader, soon starts to fall in love with his work, then with the man.

Of course she kept him in the dark about a lot of things. Least of all, why the struggling writer was all of a sudden flushed with money. She kept her real employment a secret, but in the end, she’ll discover that Tom Haley is harbouring secrets of his own.

This message will self-destruct in 3…2..

Spy fiction! I’ve never read something like this before…not that Sweet Tooth was one. Unfortunately, this is not in the scale of Ian Fleming’s type of work. Or the more modern, Ludlum. In fact, the mission was kind of lame. MI5 created a top secret operation in which they will support the livelihoods of ten writers in the hopes that they’ll write something significant in the future. A bit like propaganda against the rising powers of the Red countries. But what a complete waste of resources! Considering what kind of literature their chosen writers were writing, and how painstakingly long it would take for the whole of England to take notice. Talk about a slow return on investment.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the novel was a psychological thriller, because then, the mission would make more sense. But since the focal point was on Serena’s romantic entanglements, this book would’ve been better off marketed as romance. The entire thing felt too hopelessley contrived to make it believable. That twist in the end did nothing to stave off the boredom I felt while reading this book. Some may find Tom’s secrets to be quite interesting, but for me, it neither enhanced it nor did the story suffer with its inclusion.

I should’ve chosen Atonement for my induction to his work. If Ian McEwan is capable of writing fluff, I’m thinking this is his version of one.

  • Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace

    It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this one. Turning it into a bit of a thriller sounds like a good idea!

    Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace

    • Exactly! I think the theme would work even better!

  • I have heard a lot about Ian McEwan’s writing and I have been meaning to try one of his books at some point. Because this sounds like a mediocre read though, I think I will try one of this other ones. I am someone who does like a good spy fiction, but this sounds like you need to let your disbelief apply a bit to grasp this novel.

    • This wasn’t a very good spy fiction, to be honest. Serena did a lot more swooning than spying.

  • You are amazing at trying new books Joy. <3 I would never be able to, lol. But maybe one day 😀 Anyway. I'm glad you ended up enjoying this one. <3 it do seem kind of interesting 🙂 Thank you for sharing about it sweetie. <3

  • Aw sorry to hear it was more fluff than plot you would expect

  • You’ve got an organisation like that, and they use their resources to track authors in the hope they produce something significant in the future? Say whaaa? Generally this wouldn’t be my type of book either, but that sounds like they’re not even trying to create a somewhat interesting storyline. Sounds more like a romance thinly marketed as a spy thriller. You should be applauded just for making it through.

    Awesome review as always Joy, so sorry you couldn’t have enjoyed this more but can’t say I don’t blame you <3 Hopefully your next read knocks your socks off.

    • Thank you! Can I just say that I never know who I’m talking to whenever I a: visit your blog, or b: reply to your comment. Lol. Is this Kelly? Perhaps the more important question is, do you have a co-blogger? Or am I completely nuts?

      Anyway. It is a weird mission, to be honest. However, who knows how these intelligence agencies work? And I have to agree with you, it is too lame to be called a spy novel.

  • Great review Joy! :] But, this does sound quite aweful and I will be giving it a wide berth. I find it hard to imagine MI5 wasting resources on such a strange and seemingly pointless project. It just seems rather unbelievable to me. I used to read quite a few spy thrillers and I’ve found Andy Macnab to be one of the best authors in this genre. “Firewall” in particular was pretty good, a ton of double crossing, planting of bombs, and a lot of running away from scarey men with big guns. xD

    • Thank you for the recommendation! I’m always on the lookout for something different. 🙂

  • Christy

    Lame spy mission, huh? I’m not even sure I understand what it is supposed to be. I can’t remember the last spy thriller I read… I think it had the word ‘white’ in the title. lol.

    • Lol. It’s pretty lame…not even worth your time. 🙂

  • Is it weird I actually haven’t heard about this author yet? Oh well
    I don’t think I’ll be picking up this one. I’ll still check out the author though.
    Lovely Review (I’m sorry you didn’t enyoy this one as much as you hoped).

    • Thanks, Anna. 🙂 McEwan is definitely not a household name in the popular culture (unless you’ve seen the movie, Atonement with Keira Knightley). I wanted to check out the rest of his work, so here i am. 🙂

  • I didn’t even know he wrote a spy thriller!? I loved Atonement but have given it to others who have found it too slow paced. You could also try Amsterdam — it’s a sort of dark comedy with social commentary. I liked it too!
    Jen @ YA Romantics

    • Oh I will definitely try that! I gave him another chance and read his newest release, The Children Act. I absolutely loved it. 🙂

  • I actually started with Atonement, but I didn’t enjoy it much. Reading through your review, I think I can safely say that McEwan just isn’t for me. The premise sounds like Sweet Tooth should have been awesome

    • You must give his new one a try. I just finished it last weekend, and it’s worlds better than this one. It’s called, The Children Act. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, Celine.

  • I’ve read a few spy novels but I have never been able to get into that genre, which is weird because I typically enjoy mystery novels. It’s a shame this didn’t work for you. The focus on the romantic entanglements would frustrate me as well.
    Lovely review, Joy!

    • Thank you, Nick. I do enjoy spy novels as well. But this one was such a disappointment. It’s definitely geared towards Romance more.

  • It’s great to try something new – sorry this one didn’t work out for you, though!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • Thanks, Nicole. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. 🙂

  • I don’t think I have ever read a good spy novel, not really anyways. I am not sure if this would be for me either but I love that you went out of your norm and tried something new! That can always be a challenge and be so hit or miss.

    • Thanks, Ali. It’s been fun exploring the different books from different genres, but it’s also when I find something lacklustre that I get a bit down.

  • I’ve been known to enjoy spy fiction, but it’s usually of the Steampunk variety, I don’t think I could do Historical, especially if the author’s writing style is overly formal. After reading your review, I’d have to agree that Atonement would have probably been a better choice for an Ian McEwan newbie because fluff is usually a safer bet.

    Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    • It’s almost sacrilegious to write fluff and McEwan in the same sentence, but there you have it. Sigh.

  • I think that it’s impressive that you chose a McEwan novel other than Atonement to start with. Even, though, you know, it turned out to be not the best representative of his work.

    • The Children Act was infinitely better, Ellen. I see you’ve got it shelved to read. I’ll be looking forward to your review when you get to it. 🙂