Sink Your “Teeth” Into McEwan’s “Sweet” New Novel

Sweet-Tooth-A-Subtly-and-Sweetly-Subversive-Novel-by-Ian-McEwanIan McEwan’s newest novel, Sweet Tooth, is definitely his best work since Atonement. From the opening lines you are immediately sucked into the life of Serena Frome (pronounced like plume, she’s not afraid to remind you). She’s a maths student at Cambridge in the 1970s who has a greater passion for literature than numbers. When she’s recruited by MI5, her love of reading is utilized for the Sweet Tooth mission.

She’s sent to offer budding writer Tom Haley a grant that allows him to spend his time writing (instead of teaching). Unbeknownst to him, the money is sent by MI5 in the hopes that he’ll produce some anti-Communist fiction to counteract the Communist propaganda in the culture.

Serena is the girl who always falls for the wrong guys (married men, unavailable men, gay men); and it is inevitable that she falls for Tom as well. She justifies much of her romantic entanglement with Tom as extra work to keep an eye on his writing. But Serena learns of his new novella and faces a dilemma between influencing his work for MI5’s cause or letting his creativity grow freely.

Sweet Tooth is equal parts love story and spy novel with a healthy dose of literary appreciation. All those elements are combined to tell a deeply engrossing story. McEwan has also peppered in enough surprising twists that will keep you second-guessing everything Serena tells you as she narrates her story. And once you read the last chapter you’ll be sorely tempted to start again from the beginning with that new information in mind.

While this isn’t Ian McEwan’s best novel—he has so many great ones—it is without a doubt my favorite of his. It’s also of the best books I’ve read this year. You would definitely be remiss not to sink your teeth into this novel.

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My Year in Books (2012)

  • Number of books read this year: 100
  • Number of books read that were published this year: 31
  • Number of books read that were published last year: 14
  • Number of books read that are on The List: 22
  • Number of books reread this year: 19
  • Number of nonfiction books read this year: 5
  • Number of pages read this year: 31,981
  • Average number of pages per book: 320
  • Last year’s book stats

Best Books I read in 2012 (that were published this year):

Best Books I read in 2012 (that were published previously):

Best Rereads in 2012:

  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Pi” Beautifully Comes to “Life” in Ang Lee’s Perfect Adaptation

Ang Lee has done the seemingly impossible and adapted Life of Pi for the big screen. This complex novel addresses faith (in all the major religions) and human instincts for survival, making it a wonderful book to read but a difficult one to translate to film. Yet Lee and screenwriter David Magee have done a perfect job adapting Yann Martel’s novel.

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Pi, or Piscine Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma), lives in India with his family that runs a zoo. He spends his childhood greedily studying Hindu, Islam, and Catholicism, searching for faith in all its forms. His faith is put to the test when disaster strikes the ship taking Pi and his family (and their zoo) to their new home in Canada. Stranded in a lifeboat with the ferocious Bengal tiger Richard Parker, Pi must stretch the limits of his survival skills without giving up hope.

As in the novel, the story of Pi’s past is told by adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to his writer guest (Rafe Spall) who is hoping to make it his next project. But by the end of the film even the writer’s faith—in God and Pi—is put to the test.

Adult Pi’s narration in the first third of the film quickly grows distracting as it frequently jumps between past and present. But once the film settles into the voyage to Canada and impending disaster, it becomes easier to relax into the story. Of course, you won’t be relaxed for long, as Pi’s attempts to tame Richard Parker will keep you on edge.

What truly makes this film great are the special effects. The animals in this film are so fully realized that you can easily believe they’re real. The visual effects combined with the set design and art direction make such a beautiful film to watch that the plot almost comes secondary  (It is even more remarkable for being done almost exactly as I imagined these scenes looking when I read the book.)

Ang Lee has crafted a beautiful film that will certainly land its share of Oscar nominations (the visual awards, certainly, along with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay nods). Yet the film’s overtly religious tones make it tedious to watch in places. No matter your religious leanings, though, this is definitely one of the best films of the year. But, please, don’t bring your children to the theater when you see it (just because there are animals in it, doesn’t mean it’s a children’s film). And don’t forget to read Martel’s novel after you see the film —or, preferably, before.