How can you resist a book that begins like this:
My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining, I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his undoing.
You can’t resist it – your reading sweet tooth has to learn more. In “Sweet Tooth” best-selling British author Ian McEwan delivers a novel that is at once a Cold War thriller, a sly love story, and a cunning dissection of the personal and public spaces where fiction and fact collide.
It’s 1972 and beautiful, intelligent, privileged Serena is “tapped” for M15 following her graduation from Cambridge. A reluctant student of math, her time at university was distinguished by a summertime affair with an older tutor who sends her to the intelligence services. Her passion really is for literature, which she indiscriminately devours. As a reader, she confesses:
My needs were simple. I didn’t bother much with themes or felicitous phrases and skipped fine descriptions of weather, landscapes and interiors. I wanted characters I could believe in, and I wanted to be made curious about what was to happen to them. Generally, I preferred people to be falling in and out of love, but I didn’t mind so much if they tried their hand at something else. It was vulgar to want it, but I liked someone to say, “Marry me” by the end . . .. I read anything I saw lying around. Pulp fiction, great literature and everything in between – I gave them all the same rough treatment.
It is her reading that pulls her into operation Sweet Tooth, which has Serena deceptively recruit promising young writer Tom Healy into the intelligence sphere. The government is secretly funding writers whose writing supports its anti-Soviet agenda. First, Serena falls for Tom’s stories – and these inventive tales are part of the book. But, predictably, just like characters in her favorite reading, the pair fall in love.
Civilization threatened by nuclear war, and I’m brooding about a stranger who caressed my palm with his thumb. Monstrous solipsism.
The very real love Serena feels for Tom is the key to her undoing. If love is trust, how can Tom ever trust her after she has concealed her identity as a spy from him for so long? McEwan’s surprising – yet irresistible – ending is a devious, devilish solution to the question: can love survive such betrayal. Serena herself would approve.
Along the way, McEwan captures the times with wit and humor. This description of a dedicated pothead is perfect:
. . . he was doing that inexcusable thing that men who liked cannabis tended to do, which was to go on about it – some famous stuff from a special village in Thailand, the terrifying near-bust one night, the view across a certain holy lake at sunset under the influence, a hilarious misunderstanding in a bus station and other stultifying anecdotes. What was wrong with our generation? Our parents had the war to be boring about. We had this.
After awhile we girls fell completely silent while Luke, in elated urgent terms, plugged deeper into the misapprehension that he was interesting.
Forget about literary munchies. You can satisfy your cravings for a suspenseful love story filled with heart and soul with “Sweet Tooth.”
“Sweet Tooth” is available at amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.