In this stunning new novel, Ian McEwan's first female protagonist since Atonement is about to learn that espionage is the ultimate seduction.
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.
In Sweet Tooth Serena Frome is a lovely young Cambridge graduate with a degree in mathematics and a passion for literature who is recruited for Great Britain's MI5 intelligence service shortly after graduation. There, after paying her dues processing paperwork and filing, she is unexpectedly assigned to an undercover mission nicknamed "Sweet Tooth."
Serena's mark is named Thomas Haley, a young Spenser scholar and promising short story writer and journalist ... Serena shows up at Haley's office, prepared to make him an offer ... but unprepared for just how hard she falls for both the man and his writing. (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
The Daily Beast
McEwan's most stylish and personal book to date ... The year's most intensely enjoyable novel.
Espionage fans won't find much that's credible, and fans of political farce might be surprised by a narrative less focused on lampooning MI5 than on mocking (mostly female) readers.
The writing is creamy smooth, the ultimate trap-within-a-trap pure gold, and the whole absolutely engrossing, but poor Serena. She's such a doof, and she's a bit condensed too (by both characters and author), which leaves a bitter taste no matter how good the novel.
Starred Review. Britain's foremost living novelist has written a book - often as drily funny as it is thoughtful - that somehow both subverts and fulfills every expectation its protagonist has for fiction.
Starred Review. McEwan readers can rest assured that, in common with its predecessors, this novel has a greatly compelling story line braced by the author's formidable wisdom about—well, the world.
The Guardian (UK)
This isn't really a novel about MI5 or the cold war or even – despite the rather obviously ladled-on research about Heath and Wilson and miners' strikes and the IRA – the 70s. This is a novel about writers and writing, about love and trust. But more than that – and perhaps most incisively of all – it's a novel about reading and readers. It's about our own peculiar responses to fiction, to the strange, slippery magic of narrative.
The Telegraph (UK)
This new book is a genial, if flawed, foray into John le Carré territory – a wisecracking thriller hightailing between love and betrayal, with serious counter-espionage credentials thrown in.
The Independent (UK) Sweet Tooth takes the expectations and tropes of the Cold War thriller and ratchets up the suspense, while turning it into something else.
Financial Times (UK)
Thoroughly clever ... a sublime novel about novels, about writing them and reading them and the spying that goes on in doing both ... McEwan has spied on real life to write Sweet Tooth, and in reading it we are invited to spy on him ... Rich and enjoyable.
The Globe and Mail
McEwan fans won’t be disappointed by Sweet Tooth, and newcomers to the author will be meeting him at the top of his game.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Cloggie Downunder brilliant Sweet Tooth is the 14th book by British author, Ian McEwan. Serena Frome’s story is narrated in detail essentially from the time she first gets involved with the man who will usher her into a position in MI5, in the early 70’s Britain. Serena is a... Read More
Rated of 5
by Becky H The spy story that isn't In Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan has used lots of lovely words and strung them together in lots of lovely ways. Unfortunately this does not make a lovely story. It is in many ways a deadly bore. To say that Sweet Tooth is tedious is an understatement.... Read More
Just as the United States has separate bureaus for internal and international intelligence and security (the FBI and the CIA), so too does the United Kingdom. Serena Frome is recruited to be part of the Security Service, the internal counter-intelligence and security agency, more commonly known as MI5 (for Military Intelligence, Section 5). Its sister agency, responsible for international intelligence, is the Secret Intelligence Service. In the 1930s SIS adopted the title of MI6 as a "flag of convenience", becoming one of 17 British military intelligence units during WWII. Other now defunct units included MI1 (code breaking), MI12 (censorship), and MI14 (Germany desk). MI6 fell out of official use years ago but many writers and journalists still use it when referring to SIS.
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