Literary Fiction

Review GPA: SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan

In Review GPA, we translate reviews of notable new books into letter grades and determine a grade point average.

sweet toothPublication Date: November 13, 2012

Genre:Spy novel

Publisher: Nan A Talese/Doubleday

Publisher’s Synopsis: “Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”

Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.”

Julie Myerson for The Guardian

Gold Star:” This is a great big beautiful Russian doll of a novel, and its construction – deft, tight, exhilaratingly immaculate – is a huge part of its pleasure. There are stories within stories, ideas within ideas, even images within images…”

Demerit: “I admit that, as I continued to read, I was nagged by cavils.”

Grade: A-

Catherine Taylor for The Telegraph

Gold Star: “Forget the spy charade: this is ultimately a book about writing, wordplay and knowingness, from McEwan’s tart asides on literary prizes to Tom’s keenness on experimental novelists and Serena’s preference for more conventional structures.”

Demerit: “That end is too long in arriving, arch as it is. Disappointingly, McEwan’s customary ‘wilful narrative sadism’ is largely missing from Sweet Tooth.”

Grade: B

Rob Brunner for Entertainment Weekly

Gold Star: “Sweet Tooth offers enough atmosphere and forward motion to compensate for the story’s slightness…It also provides McEwan with plenty of space to ruminate on writers, writing, and the power of stories — both the kind in books and those that we spin in real life.”

Demerit: “…unnecessary twist ending that feels forced”

Grade: B+ (grade provided by reviewer)

Amanda Craig for The Independent

Gold Star: “Sweet Tooth, as expected, is a well-crafted pleasure to read, its smooth prose and slippery intelligence sliding down like cream.”

Demerit: “Nevertheless, such excursions into the metafictional cause Sweet Tooth to become arch in a way which may irritate many readers. The novel’s novelist, Haley, is suggestively close to the young McEwan – minus the support of the UEA creative writing course, the job at New Statesman and the smart boys’ own club which helped rocket him to fame.”

“One doesn’t care about Serena, or believe in her; she is carefully calculated to annoy, and her sexual self-confidence rings utterly false to a woman reader.”

Grade: C

Michicko Kakutani for The New York Times

Gold Star: “As usual his prose is effortlessly seductive. And he does a nimble job too of conjuring London in the 1970s — with its economic woes, worries about I.R.A. bombings and uneasy assimilation of the countercultural changes of the ’60s.”

Demerit: “About halfway through readers may begin to suspect what the story’s concluding twist might be, and when we reach the end, we realize that the puzzle pieces Mr. McEwan has hand carved don’t quite come together with the sort of authoritative click that might have made for a fully satisfying novel.”

Grade: C+

Review GPA: B- (2.86)