Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

The year is 1972, and Serena Frome has just graduated from Cambridge.  She hasn't exactly covered herself in academic glory and is unsure what to do with her life.  When she is recruited by M15, based on the recommendation of her tutor and lover, Tony, who worked for the service for many years she accepts.

Much to her dismay, women's liberation has not made its way through the doors of M15.  Women officers are delegated to secretarial work and expected to be grateful for the task.  After months of this, Serena is excited to be given a chance to do something worthwhile, something that will make a difference.  The service is starting a new operation; one that will support authors who seem to be fighting the liberal bent.  They will be given enough funds to allow them to concentrate on their writing without having to work at menial jobs.  In return, without the author realising it, the government's views will be out there serving as a counterpoint to the established liberal bent.   Serena, known as a reader, is given the task of signing up Tom Haley, an up and coming author.

Serena goes to meet Tom, posing as the employee of a foundation.  The foundation exists, it just doesn't advertise that its money comes from the government.  Tom is sceptical, but soon realises he can't pass up this marvelous opportunity.  Neither can he pass up Serena.  Soon they are madly in love, spending every weekend together.

The book focuses on the dilemma Serena faces.  She never expected to fall in love with Tom.  If she comes clean about how they came to meet, he will undoubtedly leave her for her deceit.  Of course, she would also lose her job.  But can she really continue to fool Tom about her part in his career?  Will he decide that he has no talent but that of echoing the sentiments the government finds most pleasing, or if so, can he ever forgive Serena?

McEwan has written an interesting story, full of plots and counterplots, ethical dilemmas and the ways we fool ourselves to get what we want.  There are layers upon layers of intricate plans and secrets, betrayals and loyalties which are tested.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and for those interested in how love can work and if it can ever survive betrayal.

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