Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

I'd call myself a fan of McEwans, but I'm probably not really a true fan - before Sweet Tooth I'd only read Atonement.  So true fans probably look down their noses at me, but I loved Atonement and have had several of his books on my TBR for a long time.  I had the chance to reivew this one through NetGalley and jumped at the chance because it sounded like my thing: spies, the Cold War, Britain, and fiction about fiction. 

I have to say that the designation of "spy thriller" really does not do the book a favor.  It's not a thriller.  And the amount of spying is very very limited.  So I've seen some reviews that say the book isn't captivating or fast-paced enough to be a spy-thriller and to that I would say "thank goodness."  I hate spy thrillers and I'm glad to see McEwan stick with the literary thing because he does it so well. 

Meta doesn't even begin to describe McEwan's writing style in this book.  Of course the whole spying thing plays a role, but the book is really about the creative process, what makes a book "successful", how writers write, and how fiction impacts culture and politics.  There are so many moments in the story that you could turn your mind inside out contemplating. 

My favorite example, and one that I've been thinking on for days, is a moment when Serena, our narrator, criticizes what she sees as authors using "tricks" in their stories - basically things like "it was all a dream" or other such subtleties that are revealed at the end.  Without giving spoilers, this small, subtle line is a huge reflection on the stories written by Serena's lover and on McEwan's writing itself.  Serena's comments on her lover's writing can be seen as comments on McEwan's writing, as well as, perhaps, subtle digs at other literary fiction authors (Cormac McCarthy's The Road?)

I love it because I feel like McEwan did a great job of writing a beautiful story, but also including subtle comments on the literary world without making them blatant comments or pushing a conclusion on the reader.  Like I mentioned above, I could spend hours thinking about subtle references and comments in the novel and making comparisons to other works and still have more to consider.  It'll definitely leave you thinking.

Entertainment Value
Like Atonement, Sweet Tooth starts slowly.  It took me a good half of the book to really commit - but once I turned that corner I was obsessed.  It wasn't a quick or easy read, but I think the overall experience was worth the effort I put into it.  It's one that I'll definitely purchase and keep and read again to try to pick up more subtleties.  Whatever you do, don't pick it up expecting a spy thriller.  You'll be sorely disappointed - unless you're like me and hoping for something more literary and less action-espionage.  I think McEwan is a great example of readable, accessibly literary fiction, even for those who don't usually read the genre.  You can take it as far as you want to go - appreciate the great writing and storytelling or spend more time analysing what McEwan is saying on a less superficial level.

I definitely recommend it.  And if you give it a try, let me know - I'd love to have someone to discuss it with!

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy for me to review.

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