Ian McEwan’s Got a Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth is Ian McEwan‘s most recent novel, published in 2012.  Its protagonist,  Serena Frome (rhymes with “plume”), a maths graduate from Cambridge with a penchant for speed-reading paperback fiction. Serena is beautiful, but not outstanding when it comes to solving mathematical problems, nor is she sophisticated in her literary tastes – she’s just your average girl who gets by with the use of her beauty and charm.


After finishing her degree in maths, Serena, recruited by her lover and former agent, joins the MI5, determined to make a difference for her country.  Set in the 1970’s when women were not common in MI5, against the backdrop of England during the Cold War, in the midst of an impending recession, Sweet Tooth, at first glance, reads a lot like a John Le Carre spy novel.

Because of her love for fiction and reading habits, Serena seemed like the perfect candidate for the new MI5 literary-themed operation: Sweet Tooth.  Operation: Sweet Tooth’s aim is to bring together like-minded writers who champion causes and views approved by the MI5.  Serena’s job in the operation would be to evaluate an up and coming writer and decide whether or not he would be a good fit for the program.

Sweet Tooth starts out a bit slow, without giving away much of what the novel is really about.  Serena starts off talking a bit about her childhood and teenage years and her family, moving on to how and why she decided to study maths in Cambridge.  Her days in Cambridge were spent mostly playing tennis, reading fiction, and having relationships with different men, including Tom Canning, who would eventually recruit her to MI5.

As the novel progresses, there are many false leads as to what Sweet Tooth might be about, and just when it seemed like a simple, straightforward tale of a failed MI5 agent,  a surprising twist, very characteristic of  Ian McEwan’s novels, pops up in the end, changing the whole tone and mood of the story.

Sweet Tooth is the 3rd Ian McEwan novel I’ve read – Atonement and Amsterdam being the other two, and though the start and middle parts of his novels seem dragging or uneventful at times, I’ve come to expect the brilliant twists at the end which would change my whole opinion of the novel.

Having a characteristic style  could certainly work for an author – people who are familiar with McEwan’s body of work, expecting a drastic twist by the end, would read his novels all the way through no matter how boring they might find it to be.  Then again, knowing a writer’s style could work to his disadvantage. Knowing that a writer’s novels contain twists in the end would strip it of its element of surprise, marking his works as predictable or stale.

Thought, what do I know?  With 6 Booker nominations -4 of which were shortlisted,  and 1 win (Amsterdam, 1998), Ian McEwan’s style seems to be really working for him, and for his readers.


Sweet Tooth (2012) – Ian McEwan

262 pages

Personal rating:  2.5/5

8 thoughts on “Ian McEwan’s Got a Sweet Tooth

    • I have Saturday, Solar, Chesil Beach and Black Dogs (?) at home, but have yet to read them. Sweet Tooth really isn’t bad…maybe 2.5 was a bit stingy of me…it could easily be a 3/5. Good luck!

  1. I got a free copy of this but I haven’t touched it yet. I am not too crazy about the espionage thing so I’m eyeing McEwan’s shorter works (On Chesil Beach and The Comfort of Strangers).

    • Hmm…well, it’s not strictly espionage….it really focuses more on the protagonist, but, yeah, if you have other McEwan novels, maybe try those first. I tried reading Chesil Beach a few years back but I got bored by it hehehe.

  2. Pingback: The lines were too long | Book Rhapsody

    • Thanks for the special mention…maybe I should start paying you for the publicity hehehe.

      I’ve read some of those book news, but I didn’t see that one about the Top 10 100 Lists…looks interesting. I’ll check it out later.

      I read that one about Bolano, which was why I started reading The Savage Detectives last week. So far it’s ok, but not as interesting as 2666 (maybe it will get better).

  3. Mmmmm I didn’t really rate this one. Like you I was waiting for the twist, but I didn’t feel that it was twist worthy in the end!
    As I finished, I thought “what was the point of that?”
    Not a good way to end 😦

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