Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Book Review: Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
My rating: ☆☆

I'm so glad I finally read something by Ian McEwan. Sweet Tooth is his newest novel, and I haven't read his others, so I don't have anything else to compare it to... yet. I will read him again, and I really enjoyed this first experience. My only past encounter with McEwan is the movie adaptation of Atonement, which I had mixed feelings about (and that was probably due to Keira Knightly being in it - I always have mixed feelings about her). Due to the dark nature of that story, I think I assumed that Sweet Tooth would have a similar tone. It's definitely not a lighthearted plot, but it's not as black as I would have liked for a book about espionage.

As for a little plot background: Serena Frome shows potential in high school for numbers, despite an overzealous appreciation for contemporary fiction reading, and is accepted to study Maths at Cambridge. She disappoints upon graduating, and only gets a third (which is the lowest level honors you can graduate with). She has a chance affair with a older professor who begins tutoring her, sexually and academically, for life as a "social servant." That's code for: MI5, Englands intelligence agency. She applies, is accepted, and is assigned to a special operation referred to as "Sweet Tooth." It's 1972, England is still fighting the Cold War, and MI5 wants to back writers whose politics lines up with the government's, in order to manipulate the cultural conversation. Well-versed in contemporary fiction, Serena is selected to co-opt a promising young writer named Tom Haley. The story centers around her falling for his stories, then for Tom himself.

I moved quite quickly through this novel, but I would have flown through it had it not been for all the tedious historical details. I don't mean details that really add to the flavor or intrigue, either. Parts of Sweet Tooth sort of read like a text book, and that's coming from a gal who loves her some historical fiction. I don't know enough about McEwan to know if he's just got a thing for history, or if he was indulging his inner professor, but man... I admit... I skimmed somma that shit. It always seemed to come at the most inopportune moments, too, like when you're waiting to see if something more interesting or exciting is about to happen.

I also didn't really relate to Serena's character very well. I felt like she could have been much more fleshed out, and even more likeable, for that matter. She did have a sort of self-deprecating dialogue that was both endearing and a little irritating all at the same time. You don't ever really feel sorry for her when it's appropriate, because you see all the consequences coming before she does. I feel like McEwan could have made her a little more approachable, but maybe that wasn't his desire.

This is a good little novel. Especially if you like Cold War history, read up! There is a nice twist toward the end, that I totally saw coming chapters ahead, but was still fun to unravel. I didn't guess the exact details, but gathered an inkling of the final punch, and this is where I feel like the climax could have been darker and -- therefore -- make much more of a lasting impression.

March Bonus Books:
the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by Mark Haddon (  ★☆ ) 

★ - Hated it.   - Didn't like it.   - Liked it.   - Really liked it.  ★ - Absolutely loved it.

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