Friday, August 30, 2013

Books in 2013: #23 Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Another book club pick, Sweet Tooth was recommended by my best friend, who is a huge Ian McEwan fan. I haven't actually read much of his stuff; back in university I read First Love, Last Rites after my British Lit prof suggested it. I enjoyed that one immensely, but not so much Black Dogs, which I later read, and which was too political for my tastes. I have a couple others, but haven't read them.

After this one, however, I'm going to make those others a priority.

This is the story of a woman who becomes an MI-5 agent in the UK in the 1970s, and what happens when she's put undercover in an operation where she has to bring on board a left-wing writer who will write certain material that will be beloved by the public and push a certain agenda that the government wants pushed. But it's what happens during said operation that becomes the crux of the book — her relationship with the writer, her relationship to the agency, and her relationship with a previous lover.

I particularly loved the 1970s setting, because I was a toddler in the 1970s and wouldn't remember anything political at that time, and in the 1980s I just remember vaguely the notion of the Cold War and Thatcherism. In this book you see the beginnings of all of that, and when Thatcher died and so many people came down so hard on her, my husband was one of the few who said, "Actually, maybe people should take a look at the England she came into, and what she was forced to try to fix. The country was deadlocked and not even working, and while yes, she broke unions and didn't make any friends on the left, she actually got things running again." I never gave much credence to what he said (I'm pretty left and he's pretty right and, well, we just seem to be living proof of opposites attracting in that sense), this book certainly made me rethink what he said. Not reevaluate, but certainly rethink.

I thought the ending was particularly fun, and I will say I thought a few times that I could see exactly where the storyline was going before it did an about-face and I was proved completely wrong.


Page48 said...

Maggie did win 3 consecutive majorities, so she wasn't without support back in the day.

Those people celebrating her death need to experience 3 terms of Dalton McGuilty to gain a little perspective.

Fred said...

Like you, Nikki, I haven't read any of Ian McEwan's novels. I have his Saturday sitting on the bookshelf (about a year now) and I still haven't got around to it. Oh well, it's not like it will be the last book I ever read, a la Desmond Hume (I have better novels in mind for that). Since you just finished Mcewan's Sweet Tooth, I would recommend Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist.One reviewer described Lessing's novel as her Alive in Wonderland.

But here's something for your husband. Margaret Thatcher used to unwind by reading spy novels, in particular John le Carre, while drinking scotch and soda.

Nikki Stafford said...

Page48: LOL! Don't even get my husband started on Dalton. You'll probably hear the phrases "pinko communist" and "nanny state" far too many times. :)

Fred: I will check out Lessing's Good Terrorist, sounds like a good one!

Steph Q said...

Atonement was my first McEwan book and I loved it. He's a not only a master storyteller but also a wordsmith the likes of which are rarely found. There was not a single word out of place in that book.

Amsterdam was equally well written, but I didn't find it nearly as engaging because 95% of the characters were so unpleasant.

You must read On Chesil Beach. It's a sweet, sad, beautiful, heartbreaking book.