Thursday, September 19, 2013

SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan (fic)

Ian McEwan is a prolific writer, and each of his novels has an interesting and different plot.  His latest book, Sweet Tooth, is yet again a different story from any of his previous work.  This book has gotten cracker-jack reviews, but I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other novels.  His main character is a young girl named Serena Frome, a recent graduate of Cambridge University. Serena in the present day is reminiscing of events which took place 40 years previously. From this point on, the story is placed in London of the 1970s.  Serena is the daughter of an ambitious but distant mother and an Anglican bishop father who takes no interest in the lives of his two daughters. 

Serena seems strangely naive for a young woman living in swinging London, an era when women were exercising their new found liberation. As the story opens she is having an affair with a much older man, her Cambridge history tutor.  She passively acquiesces to her mother's demands that she study maths as "she has a talent for numbers."  Serena wanted to study English, and she quickly discovered at Cambridge that she is only a mediocre math student. She graduated from University without the sought after First that she might have had a shot at, if she had read English as she had wished.  Fleeing to London after an unhappy ending to her love affair, she is recruited for MI5 by her ex-lover who himself is running from a shady past.

Serena acts passively and dreamy as she drifts in and out of scenes and schemes put together by the spooks of MI5.  One odd scheme is to recruit writers by offering writing grants to young authors who might have a more mainstream bent, as a countermeasure to the popular left leaning writers.  Serena is ordered to offer one of these grants to Tom Haley, a writer and lecturer at Sussex University, a school she would rather have attended than Cambridge.  The grants are set up through a phony cultural organization funded by the secret service.

So begins a tissue of lies and intrigue, the action picks up and the story now becomes interesting.  Serena's relationship with Tom deepens.  It seems he also is keeping secrets.  Other minor characters enter the picture and muddy the waters further.  All this leads to an ending that is unexpected as the reader tries to determine truth from subterfuge. 

All this makes for a fun read constructed with a clever plot and a good dose of mystery.

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