Tag Archives: Ian McEwan: Sweet Tooth: MI5:

…Ian McEwans latest is not one of his best.

Finished reading ”Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan now. Although not one of his best, still a reasonably enjoyable read. Definitely well-written, as is usually the case with McEwan. This is a writer who knows his craft and whose prose flows pretty effortlessly through the pages.

Against a backdrop of the social change of the 1970´s, the oil crisis and the IRA´s terror campaign in mainland UK, we get to know Serena Frome – lowly MI5 clerk suddenly finding herself part of a programme devised to influence current culture by financing writers believed to hold the appropriate views. Of course, it all goes pear shaped when Serena and her protégé promptly falls in love, while at the same time trying to keep secrets secret. I think we should leave the stroryline at that, not to give away any spoilers which the first chapter hasn´t already served up.

This book gives you the same feeling about the intelligence community as the ”Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy” movie. Sort of trying to walk through a mental quagmire. Nothing solid seems to exist, and all that you think you´ve accomplished might eventually turn out to be pointless. It´s very much about projecting an illusion of control that is really an exercise in self-deception, something to camouflage the relentless complexity and chaotic aspects of actual reality. The best laid plans of mice and men, as the saying goes.

Serena, the female protagonist, is relating to the world and all the male characters in terms of romantic or sexual attraction, preferably the latter. The feeling of getting to know a determined personality is not that strong, and the characterization of Serena is effectively done by mirroring her through the eyes of the men in her life, be they actual lovers or prospective ones. I´m not a woman, and can´t really tell if this is a realistic stance or not. How it fits into contemporary feminist discourse is something you could probably discuss at length if you´re that way inclined. I´m not, so I´m going to let it suffice to say that it´s mildly irritating.

Being an at least entertaining read, the ending is a bit of a let down. McEwan uses a pretty cheap and not very imaginative trick to turn the story around. You see it coming from a mile off already at the beginning of the last chapter. I can understand how it might have seemed a good idea at the time, but really it isn´t. Without revealing too much, you might argue that the reversal of perspective could explain some of the flaws of characterization that was mentioned above. Regardless of that, I still didn´t like it that much, and the otherwise entirely open ending didn´t feel satisfactory.

Upon reading through the above, I realize that it sounds pretty negative and could be interpreted as a reason for not reading the book. That was not my intention. If you´ve liked his earlier works you should read this one too. It definitely has it´s moments, and is worth the relatively short time it takes to read it.