Sweet Tooth: A Novel. Ian McEwan. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. November 2012. 320 pp. hardback. ISBN #: 9780385536820.
In 1972 the Cold War was still making British government and citizens very nervous. Communists were the enemy and subversion of their message was the job of the British Secret Service. This part of the war, however, would not be carried out with killing machines of guns and bombs but through the fiction and non-fiction messages that famous and not so famous authors would pen and circulate widely in professional and non-professional places. No limitation would be placed on their literary efforts and published works. Propaganda need not be overt!
Serena Frome is a former Cambridge student who briefly carries on an affair with a professor who once worked for the British intelligence agency - M5. That agency was often at odds with its sister group M6. In a stunning series of planned events, Serena's lover drops her but guarantees her a job in M5. While there, she is slowly eased into a job of getting a "new" author to write a novel. The story could be about anything and will be funded by the government. As he becomes more well-known, more will happen. Little does Serena realizes her reaction to this writer will be so passionate and little does she realize how jealous her immediate boss will be by her vehement connection. What her new friend pens is far more harrowing and upsetting to Serena.
Sweet Tooth is quite simply an amazing novel about the multiple ways in which smart people maintain an innocent, blind attitude toward what so obviously lacks credibility. Every single character in this story shares that naive mental and emotional stance. Patriotism and passion are stunningly manifest in flagrant stupidity. Upon finishing this novel, should the reader say, "Oh, I wouldn't think like that; I wouldn't miss those clues. I don't hold beliefs like these characters?" Probably not because we are so inundated with our own contemporary propaganda that few truly analyze, critique, and speak out against what is really quite harmful distortion.
Sweet Tooth is a well-written novel that should be read by as many people as possible. Its satiric message is so necessary. This tendency to become star-struck by intelligence and "shared secrets" should be a warning bell if we would see government shaped by the people and not the reverse. Congratulations, Ian McEwan, for a vital novel, a must read for people of all nations!