Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Fiction pick by Jean-Louis

(Knopf Canada, 2012)
Sweet Tooth is the name of McEwan’s latest novel and the code name for the MI5 spy operation that is at the heart of the novel. Set in the 1970’s the novel is a look in on the cultural aspect of the Cold War efforts of the British and American spy agencies.

As with all spy stories, this novel is filled with stories within stories and we have to read through the entire story to decide where to find the truth. And maybe even then we do not reach the truth. McEwan is having fun here and several of his contemporaries make their appearance in the novel. Martin Amis shows up in the running for the Booker Prize and the novelist in the thrall of the MI5 agent may be a nod to a young McEwan. The literary puzzles are there to be deciphered.

McEwan’s writing is often concerned with secrets and their devastating effects. His earlier novel Atonement dealt with the lifelong consequences of truths and half-truths. Sweet Tooth is a rich novel of intrigue both on the spy front and also on social commentary. Within MI5, in the late stages of the cold war, the organization is fraught with sexual politics. Serena Frome (rhymes with Plume) is the young operative tasked with being the handler for the case—or is she merely the pawn to someone else’s game. Read the novel to decide for yourself.

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