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Novel of the week: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan’s “coy” new book opens like a John le Carré spy novel.

Ian McEwan’s “coy” new book opens like a John le Carré spy novel, said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. In the early 1970s, fledgling MI5 agent Serena Frome is dispatched to secretly steer a young London writer toward producing fiction that will serve as pro-Western propaganda, and the operation goes awry when the pair become lovers. But the writer “bears more than passing resemblance” to McEwan, and after its intriguing start, Sweet Tooth mutates into “a tricky, postmodern entertainment” that’s more annoying than clever. “Effortlessly seductive” prose can’t make up for the novel’s “self-conscious contrivance and foreseeable conclusion.” Doubts are inevitable, “but you have to hang in there,” said Julie Myerson in The Guardian (U.K.). With its unreliable narrator and its stories containing stories, this is a book “about the slippery magic of narrative.” Accept its quirks and it becomes “a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel”—both comic and bursting with ideas. 

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