Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Sweet Tooth," by Ian McEwan

I was bowled over when I read Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement" some years ago. It was riveting, moving, powerful. Since I read it, I have read several others of his novels, and have had varying reactions to them. They are all wonderfully well written, but only some of them have engaged me. "On Chesil Beach" definitely did (see my post of 10/23/10); "Saturday" did to a lesser degree. But "Amsterdam" did not at all, and "Solar" mostly left me cold. Now I have just read McEwan's latest novel, "Sweet Tooth" (Doubleday, 2012), and although as usual it is well written, with an intriguing story, it just didn't draw me into its world. It should have, as it features several aspects that I usually like: it takes place in London in the early 1970s, with side trips to Brighton; and it features a female main character, Serena, who falls in love with a writer during the course of her work with him. Because she works for the M15 (equivalent to the U.S.'s CIA), there is secrecy built into the story and the character, and perhaps that is why I couldn't really relate to her or any other character in the novel. Then the ending provides a twist, a sort of "meta" surprise that also explains -- aha! -- a gap in readers' understanding of, and feeling for, Serena. Although I sometimes like surprises in fiction, I often just feel manipulated, especially by authorial games of this type. So although I more or less enjoyed this novel, and, as always, felt I was in good hands, I was left with a slightly hollow, disappointed feeling. Nevertheless, McEwan is such a good writer that he is always on my must-read list, and I am sure I will eagerly find and read his next novel when it appears.

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