lauantai 9. maaliskuuta 2013
Ian McEwan's most recent novel seems interesting at first: it is the early 1970s, and Serena Frome is recruited by the British Security Service, the MI5. The Cold War is on, and Serena is assigned an undercover mission code-named "Sweet Tooth" to recruit a promising novelist to wage the war against Communism on a cultural and literary front. The idea is that the novelist receives a huge grant (although he doesn't know where it originally comes from), and in return he must simply write and publish fiction. How and when the MI5 plan to influence and take advantage of the resulting texts remains unclear...
But after this promising, although slightly confusing, start, the story seems to get stuck where it is; it doesn't really go anywhere - at least not anywhere interesting. As you continue reading, you soon begin to realize that this really is all there is to the story. And as the end draws near, you begin to wonder what in the world McEwan was trying to do when he wrote this book.
Sweet Tooth is a lot of things, that's for sure. It's a novel about spies and the influence of the Cold War on Britain in the 1970s, but it is also a love story and a book about books and writing fiction. The problem is that these different genres don't really form a coherent, seamless story. The parts about the MI5 and the "Sweet Tooth" mission are not very exciting or captivating to read. There is little periodic detail that would set the novel more firmly in the 1970s and the climate of the Cold War. The cover photo is misleading: there is no running away from men in dark alleys, and there is very little action, violence or suspense related to spying. This is no James Bond story. Also, Serena's love affairs are unsurprising, and the inevitable twist at the end of the novel is predictable (although it also made me want to read the book again!). Basically the reader is left to wonder who is really spying on whom, and who is writing which story.
Sweet Tooth is certainly totally different from any of the other novels by McEwan that I have read, but it feels very... average. Not bad, but not amazing or great either. Something's missing. There is very little humour and very few deep insights into the workings of the human mind (which are so crucial in some of the other novels that McEwan has written). The plot seems to be constantly interrupted by detailed anecdotes of the short stories read by Serena that are paraphrased to the reader.
The novel has interesting metafictional elements, and some of its characters are based on actual people (including McEwan himself as the novelist in Sweet Tooth!), and I suppose you would enjoy reading it more, if you understood all these connections.
Sweet Tooth has received very mixed reviews, and I think it's one of those novels that you either really enjoy or don't like at all.
Ian McEwan: Sweet Tooth. Jonathan Cape. 2012. 323 pages.
IanMcEwan.com: Sweet Tooth
Wikipedia: Sweet Tooth
NY Times review: 'I Spy'