03 February 2014

Sweet Tooth

by Ian McEwan

Finishing Sweet Tooth was my consolation accomplishment for never having finished Atonement. It's a difficult book to categorize, but I did really enjoy reading it.

From the Amazon.com synopsis: "Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”

Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.

Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self."

I have to assume that part of the reason I liked this book was because it combines so many of my favorite things:  it's set in England and during an interesting time historically, there are various literary allusions, and there's a bit of mystery to it.  There is, of course, a little bit of a love story thrown in for good measure, but I found that the book's plot is driven more by tension than anything else.  

Now, while I was entertained, I wouldn't go quite as far as the Amazon reviewer.  I didn't find it terribly dazzling or superb; I did, however, enjoy the internal dialogue about the extent to which a person can reinvent herself and then find that, rather than helping to avoid a dilemma, her duplicity has instead caused a worse problem.  At the risk of sounding flippant, I will admit that I was just relieved that something -- anything -- happened in this book because Atonement was a study in fictive inertia if ever there were such a thing.

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