I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan’s novels but will readily admit to not liking his last book, Solar. So there was a small corner of doubt in my mind as I started reading his latest novel. Doubt that dissipated almost immediately. This is Ian McEwan at his absolute best.
On the surface it looks like McEwan has written a spy novel but that is too simple a label to apply to this story. Set in Britain in the 1970s the story centers on Serena Frome, daughter of a bishop who after attending Cambridge to study mathematics is recruited by MI5. Sabrina’s passion however has been for books rather than mathematics and she soon finds herself in the middle of a subversive culture war. Trying to follow in the footsteps of their CIA counterparts MI5 has set up a foundation to promote writers that support western governments views and values and who speak out against communism and the Soviet Bloc. Serena is tasked with bringing an up and coming novelist on board with the project, code named Sweet Tooth. However after falling in love with the target’s writing Serena finds herself falling in love with the target and becomes caught between two worlds built on fiction. The line between truth and story becomes inextricably blurred and Serena must navigate this terrain carefully or risk losing everything.
McEwan has a lot of fun with the literary world of 1970s Britain as well as the geo-political world of the time too. This is a clever and subversive read that will keep you second guessing well after you finish reading it.