I must admit that the premise of Ian McEwan's latest novel did not initially excite me: young, British woman becomes embroiled in intrigue, a love affair and anti-Communist espionage. However, I couldn't take a pass on my favourite author's new work so I gave "Sweet Tooth" a try. As usual, McEwan did not disappoint.
Serena Frome (rhymes with plume), the gorgeous and intelligent daughter of an Anglican bishop and an ambitious mother, reluctantly studies math at Cambridge. In her spare time, she shines as a book reviewer in a student magazine column called "What I Read Last Week." Frome soon discovers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and starts writing anti-Communist rants, which get her noticed by Tony Canning, a university professor who becomes her lover. Unbeknownst to Serena, Canning grooms her for a career in the intelligence service with MI-5.
Serena's superiors put her in charge of recruiting young academic and promising writer, Tom Healy, into the program. Of course, she cannot tell Healy that his funds come from MI-5; he believes he is being paid by a cultural foundation. Ultimately, Serena leads a double life with Healy; she becomes his lover but also spies on him for the intelligence service. Meanwhile, she believes she is being followed doesn’t know whom she can trust, especially after she finds out a secret about Canning.
As usual, McWean's spare, efficient prose makes this book both memorable and enjoyable. But it's the author's knack for subtly incorporating the unexpected that makes him truly remarkable. "Solar" featured a faked murder, "Atonement" hinged on a crucial lie, and "Amsterdam" ended in devastation. "Sweet Tooth," too, contains a little surprise that everything turns upon. It not only makes the reader gasp audibly; it brilliantly unites the themes of deception, betrayal and unconditional love.