Ian’s New Gambit


Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

One thing I enjoy about what we call this particular version of postmodern literature is the tinkering with structure, and McEwan is a master of that talent. Too, he, like most gifted writers, is a student of human tics, psychology, the subtleties that make us unique, and he’s clearly mastered gifting his characters with such uniquenesses. But to the story:

A young woman, Serena Frome, is hired by Britain’s MI5 to award a young writer, Tom Haley, with a money grant in order to, hopefully, groom him, as he rises in literary prominence, to take a politically acceptable posture in his writing. But Serena immediately falls for Tom, and as their relationship grows to mutual love, she wrestles with the ethical dilemma of whether to inform her lover of her clandestine part in his good fortune. Tom does rise – immediately – to prominence in Brit literature, but that puts additional strains on  Serena as her role in his life is laid bare.

If this sounds like a rather pedestrian storyline, don’t let it dissuade you from reading Sweet Tooth. Why? Because the book is as accurate a portrait of British life in the early ‘sixties as one could conjure. It’s filled with secrecy, ideological overreach, the beginnings of the sexual revolution, and the yet-chauvinistic attitude of men toward women. And let’s not forget booze, dope, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also a meditation on writing, the writer’s life, the necessary subtleties of novels and short stories that make them worth reading, and on publishing then and now. In the end, though, the seemingly pedestrian storyline isn’t really McEwan’s at all. We’ll let you read the book to resolve the puzzle of that statement.

There is one aspect at the beginning that this reader fails to appreciate: an overlong paraphrasing of another novel Serena has read. But McEwan’s literary and storytelling gifts are many, and they completely overwhelm such a minor quibble.

My rating: 18 of 20 stars


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