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BookClub Reads: Sweet Tooth


Ian McEwan’s first female protagonist as far as I am aware. This novel is the ultimate seduction. 

Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.” 

Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one. 

Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self.


I enjoyed this novel. With McEwan, the novels are about the; writing, words, and the power of words. It is a lot to take in, but it is worth it.

Serena is a young woman whom stumbles into her new career. By stumbles I mean she is ‘groomed’ into it by an older man, a teacher who has actually brain washed her to do everything he wanted. I did not like that Serena spent a good portion of the start of this novel going on about this creep. Yes, it is naive and easy to see how she was manipulated as she is reflecting upon her younger years at the start of the novel. However, how foolish she was! I wish I could shake her at times.

Later on, she hopes for an assignment that will extend past the usual fate for MI5’s women of secretarial work. 1972, it does not seem too long ago, yet from these descriptions it seems like a much longer time difference. The repeated theme of how women cannot possibly have high-powered careers past filing. Yet, one of the women in the MI5 office is moving up fast through the ranks, and Serena notes that eventually Millie would become director of MI5.

It was interesting to learn that the setting of this novel is not so fictional. There have always been various arms-length or secret funding of arts organisations and individuals that will promote views sympathetic to those of the ruling classes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read, it was very insightful and gripping. Definite must read.

5/5 Stars

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