Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

I have to begin this review with an admission: I have never liked “Atonement”, the book that was a great success for the author, and which became a successful movie as well. I found it kind of boring and too long. On the other hand I did like his much shorter “On Chesil Beach”. That one was a pleasure to read, mainly because it told a story in a masterful way and in the right amount of words.

Sweet Tooth” I have loved as well, even though at the beginning I felt reluctant to dive into its world. I guess that had to do with my distrust of the big newspaper critics who are willing to hail every book as a masterpiece once its author is of McEwan’s fame and caliber. I’m so glad that I was proven wrong, and that I did get to read this novel. It is a masterpiece. I’m not saying that it’s the best fiction book I’ve ever read, but it is one of the best I have read this year.

This is a story of lovers and spies, and of writers and politicians, in a highly charged era of the European history. We meet the heroes in London in the early seventies. The cold war is going strong, the people feel insecure, and the propaganda, or mind games are at their peak. It is under these circumstances that a young and seemingly brilliant woman is recruited by the British secret service. At first she has nothing much to do, she’s a paper pusher, but one day her luck will change and she’ll be given a mission, to help an author promote her country’s interests.

What ensues is an adventure, with not too much action, but with a lot of ups and downs. As the reader will soon come to understand most of the actors in this drama are more or less sad, and they are mostly ignorant: “Everyone knew as much as they needed to know to be happy,” we read, but yet that happiness eluded them.

If it wasn’t for the author’s beautiful prose and the final twist that takes the reader by surprise this would be a brilliant but sad story, as we follow the footsteps of two people who are doomed to fail. However, things are not exactly the way they seem, and as McEwan seems to suggest, even if the whole world comes tumbling down, there’s still hope to be found.

I believe that anyone out there that likes literary fiction of the highest quality should read this novel, as it has a lot to offer: raw emotions, a great story, a beautiful background, and exquisite writing.

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