Ian 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.
- ‘Sweet Tooth,’ by Ian McEwan (nytimes.com)
- Ian McEwan’s ‘Sweet Tooth’ explores a world of spies (miamiherald.com)
- ‘Sweet Tooth’ by Ian McEwan: A Spy Novel With Love and Relationships, No Food Involved (booksnreview.com)