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Sweet Tooth
Cover of Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth
A Novel
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Atonement, an “effortlessly seductive” novel (The New York Times) that masterfully entwines espionage and desire in an unforgettable story of intrigue, betrayal and love.
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 the 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.
Don’t miss Ian McEwan’s new novel, Lessons, coming in September!
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the Booker Prize winner and bestselling author of Atonement, an “effortlessly seductive” novel (The New York Times) that masterfully entwines espionage and desire in an unforgettable story of intrigue, betrayal and love.
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 the 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.
Don’t miss Ian McEwan’s new novel, Lessons, coming in September!
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    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 own undoing.

    I won’t waste much time on my childhood and teenage years. I’m the daughter of an Anglican bishop and grew up with a sister in the cathedral precinct of a charming small city in the east of England. My home was genial, polished, orderly, book-filled. My parents liked each other well enough and loved me, and I them. My sister Lucy and I were a year and a half apart and though we fought shrilly during our adolescence, there was no lasting harm and we became closer in adult life. Our father’s belief in God was muted and reasonable, did not intrude much on our lives and was just sufficient to raise him smoothly through the Church hierarchy and install us in a comfortable Queen Anne house. It overlooked an enclosed garden with ancient herbaceous borders that were well known, and still are, to those who know about plants. So, all stable, enviable, idyllic even. We grew up inside a walled garden, with all the pleasures and limitations that implies.

    The late sixties lightened but did not disrupt our existence. I never missed a day at my local grammar school unless I was ill. In my late teens there slipped over the garden wall some heavy petting, as they used to call it, experiments with tobacco, alcohol and a little hashish, rock and roll records, brighter colors and warmer relations all round. At seventeen my friends and I were timidly and delightedly rebellious, but we did our schoolwork, we memorized and disgorged the irregular verbs, the equations, the motives of fictional characters. We liked to think of ourselves as bad girls, but actually we were rather good. It pleased us, the general excitement in the air in 1969. It was inseparable from the expectation that soon it would be time to leave home for another education elsewhere. Nothing strange or terrible happened to me during my first eighteen years and that is why I’ll skip them.

    Left to myself I would have chosen to do a lazy English degree at a provincial university far to the north or west of my home. I enjoyed reading novels. I went fast—I could get through two or three a week—and doing that for three years would have suited me just fine. But at the time I was considered something of a freak of nature—a girl who happened to have a talent for mathematics. I wasn’t interested in the subject, I took little pleasure in it, but I enjoyed being top, and getting there without much work. I knew the answers to questions before I even knew how I had got to them. While my friends struggled and calculated, I reached a solution by a set of floating steps that were partly visual, partly just a feeling for what was right. It was hard to explain how I knew what I knew. Obviously, an exam in maths was far less effort than one in English literature. And in my final year I was captain of the school chess team. You must exercise some historical imagination to understand what it meant for a girl in those times to travel to a neighboring school and knock from his perch some condescending smirking squit of a boy. However, maths and chess, along with hockey, pleated skirts and hymn-singing, I considered mere school stuff. I reckoned it was time to put away these childish things when I began to think about applying to university. But I reckoned without my mother.

    She was the quintessence, or parody, of a vicar’s then a bishop’s wife—a formidable memory for...
About the Author-
  • IAN MCEWAN is the critically acclaimed author of seventeen novels and two short story collections. His first published work, a collection of short stories, First Love, Last Rites, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award; The Cement Garden; Enduring Love; Amsterdam, which won the 1998 Booker Prize; Atonement; Saturday; On Chesil Beach; Solar; Sweet Tooth; The Children Act; Nutshell; and Machines Like Me, which was a number-one bestseller. Atonement, Enduring Love, The Children Act and On Chesil Beach have all been adapted for the big screen.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 13, 2012
    McEwan goes for laughs in this cold war spoof in which Serena Frome, one time math whiz, struggles through Cambridge and graduates in 1972 with an embarrassing third. For reasons never satisfactorily explained, a professor and former MI5 operative recruits her as a spy. Serena’s soon in love, not for the last time in the story, no matter that he’s 54, long married and sickly, or that she’s 21, gorgeous, and in a relationship. She’s a voracious reader, and her familiarity with contemporary fiction earns her an assignment to persuade a writer with anti-Soviet leanings to abandon academia and write full-time, supported by funding whose source he can never know. Espionage fans won’t find much that’s credible, and fans of political farce might be surprised by a narrative less focused on lampooning MI5 than on mocking (mostly female) readers. Given the nonstop wisecracks, the book might be most satisfying if read as sheer camp. A twist confirms that the misogyny isn’t to be taken seriously, but Serena’s intellectual inferiority is a joke that takes too long to reach its punch line. McEwan devotees may hope that in his next novel he returns to characterizations deeper than the paper they’re printed on. Agent: The Georges Borchardt Literary Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from September 1, 2012
    A subtly and sweetly subversive novel which seems more characteristic of its author as it becomes increasingly multilayered and labyrinthine in its masterful manipulation of the relationship(s) between fiction and truth. Both the title and the tone make this initially seem to be an uncharacteristically light and playful novel from McEwan (Atonement, 2002, etc.). Its narrator is a woman recounting her early 20s, some four decades after the fact, when she was recruited by Britain's MI5 intelligence service to surreptitiously fund a young novelist who has shown some promise. After the two fall in love, inevitably, she must negotiate her divided loyalties, between the agency she serves and the author who has no idea that his work is being funded as an anti-Communist tool in the "soft Cold War." Beautiful (as she recognizes such a character in a novel must be) and Cambridge-educated, Serena Frome seems perfect for the assignment of soliciting writer Tom Haley because, as one of her superiors puts it, "you love literature, you love your country." The "Sweet Tooth" operation makes no attempt to control what its authors write and doesn't reveal to them exactly who is funding them, but provides financial support for writers who have shown some resistance to fashionable radicalism. Though Serena's reading tends toward "naive realism," favoring novels where she would be "looking for a version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite old shoes," the relationship between Tom's fiction and his character, as well as the parallels between the creative inventions his job demands and those of hers, illuminate the complexities of life and art for Serena and the reader as well. "In this work the line between what people imagine and what's actually the case can get very blurred. In fact that line is a big grey space, big enough to get lost in." The "work" being discussed is undercover intelligence, but it could just as easily be literature. Britain's foremost living novelist has written a book--often as drily funny as it is thoughtful--that somehow both subverts and fulfills every expectation its protagonist has for fiction.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2012

    In 1972, beautiful Serena Frome is finishing her maths degree at Cambridge when she is tapped by M15 for Operation Sweet Tooth, which aims to fund artists and writers with the correct political views. She's supposed to charm upcoming writer Tom Healey but instead falls in love with him and prepares to tell all when her cover is blown. Thrills of a different sort, M15 or not.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from October 15, 2012
    McEwan's attentive audience can never anticipate what his next novel will be about, but because his fans know that any McEwan book will offer a wildly creative plot carried by complex characters and an elegant yet ironically muted writing style, they are willing, whenever a new novel appears, to go with the author whereverhistorically and psychologicallyhe leads. This time that place is the spy world of British intelligence in the early 1970s. (Remember, although WWII is over, the Cold War is definitely not.) With grace, assurance, and credibility, McEwan assumes a female persona in this first-person remembrance, narrated from the vantage of 40 years later. Serena Frome is a smart, attractive, Cambridge-educated young woman who is recruited by her older lover for the MI5 intelligence agency. She is slotted into a secret program called Sweet Tooth, designed to cultivate writers likely to produce novels ideologically in tune with the government. Spydom is, of course, fraught with betrayal, and Serena is not immune to that common pitfall. McEwan readers can rest assured that, in common with its predecessors, this novel has a greatly compelling story line braced by the author's formidable wisdom aboutwell, the world. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Promotion strategies listed for McEwan's new book are expectedly wide-ranging, including, of course, national media appearances for him.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

  • The Daily Beast "McEwan's most stylish and personal book to date ... The year's most intensely enjoyable novel."
  • USA Today "A tightly crafted, exquisitely executed page-turner -- a post-modern hall of mirrors asking savvy questions about identity, all concealed in the immersive trappings of a Victorian novel complete with a marriage plot. There's such rich pleasure and vulnerability in McEwan's storytelling, such style and heart in his well-honed sentences."
  • Washington Post "Ian McEwan's delicious new novel provides all the pleasures one has come to expect of him: pervasive intelligence, broad and deep knowledge, elegant prose, subtle wit and, by no means least, a singularly agreeable element of surprise."
  • The New York Times "As usual McEwan's prose is effortlessly seductive."
  • Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review "As entertaining as a very intelligent novel can be and vice versa ... Sweet Tooth is extremely clever in both the British and American senses (smart as well as amusingly tricky) and his most cheerful book by far."
  • The Boston Globe "McEwan has pulled off something remarkable here: Sweet Tooth is a suspenseful plot-and-character-driven novel with an unexpected postmodern twist. It's Jane Austen meets John Le Carré meets John Barth -- not a combination that I imagine anyone has ever walked into a bookstore seeking. But it's one whose delights turn out to be considerable."
  • Katie Roiphe, Slate "Tricky and captivating ... This is a book you can think about for a long time, a book that lingers and disturbs, in a good way."
  • Star Tribune "With his new novel, Ian McEwan looks set to have his biggest success since 2001's Atonement, and deservedly so. Both books feature eloquent and convincing female narrator/protagonists and have the same sly concerns: the uses and misuses of the imagination ... A story set in a bitter climate, but one told with such poise and craft that the novel is, one has to say, ultimately a sweet read."
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "A subtly and sweetly subversive novel [that is a] masterful manipulation of the relationship(s) between fiction and truth ... Britain's foremost living novelist has written a book as drily funny as it is thoughtful."
  • Julie Myerson, The Observer "This is a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel, and its construction – deft, tight, exhilaratingly immaculate – is a huge part of its pleasure ... Sweet Tooth is a comic novel and a novel of ideas, but, unlike so many of those, it also exerts a keen emotional pull."
  • Financial Times "Thoroughly clever ... a sublime novel about novels, about writing them and reading them and the spying that goes on in doing both ... McEwan has spied on real life to write Sweet Tooth, and in reading it we are invited to spy on him ... Rich and enjoyable."
  • The Telegraph "A wisecracking thriller hightailing between love and betrayal, with serious counter-espionage credentials thrown in ... This is ultimately a book about writing, wordplay and knowingness."
  • Daily Mail "McEwan writes with his usual clinical precision, brilliantly evoking the London of dingy Camden flats, the three-day week and IRA atrocities. His assumption of a female persona is pitch-perfect."
  • Bloomberg Businessweek "A disgraced spy, a failed mission, a ruined lover: Ian McEwan's new novel, Sweet Tooth, opens at full tilt ... The novel's pleasures are multiple and, as always with McEwan, they begin with the storytelling."
  • The Independent "Sweet Tooth takes the expectations and tropes of the Cold War thriller and ratchets up the suspense ... A well-crafted pleasure to read, its smooth prose and slippery intelligence sliding down like cream."
  • Irish Times "Gloriously readable and, at times, wickedly funny."
  • The Globe and Mail "McEwan fans won't be disappointed by Sweet Tooth, and newcomers to the author will be meeting him at the top of his game."
  • James Wood, The New Republic "McEwan is one of the most gifted literary storytellers alive."
  • Chicago Sun-Times "[McEwan's] finely honed prose is a deep pleasure to experience."
  • The New York Observer "McEwan is in the first tier of novelists writing in English today . . . He has achieved a complete mastery of his craft."
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Ian McEwan
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