Ian McEwan is a superb writer, and his subject matter is the sort of thing I’m attracted to: murder, science, espionage, literature. I’ve read most of his novels, and each one of them leaves me feeling dissatisfied for one reason or another. The latest is called Sweet Tooth (bad title), which is kinda sorta an espionage novel set in the England of the 1970s. I raced through it, but I was thoroughly annoyed by the end. Here’s why:
- Despite being set in England’s MI5 and filled with espionage types, the book is really light on plot. Not much actually happens.
- In reality, the focus turns out to be on a fairly uninteresting love triangle among three not very sympathetic people.
- The novel ends with a post-modern twist. (McEwan did something similar in Atonement.) Time was I was very much in favor of post-modern twists. My tastes have apparently changed, or maybe McEwan just didn’t pull this one off. In this case, it just made me want to toss the completed book against the nearest wall.
The novel got lots of rave reviews from critics, but on Amazon it has a relatively modest 3.5 rating (by contrast, my novel Senator has, ahem, a 4.3 rating and Dover Beach a 4.1). Lots of people seem to share my reservations.
What I liked about the novel was its wonderfully detailed depiction of England in the 1970s. On the other hand, the couple of times McEwan wrote about something I’m familiar with, he got it wrong. (No one “takes a legal degree from Harvard” — at least, not back then.) Kinda shakes your confidence.