“Sweet Tooth” by Ian McEwan

So far my McEwan reading has been:
The Comfort of Strangers (many years ago, at a friend’s house). A chilling novella with a gruesomely violent ending, but whose motivations are implausible
Saturday. Again tension, but this time much better handled as it so nearly bursts out as before, but the dénouement, based on the Power of Litratchah to Tame the Violent, sets alarm bells a-tingling
On Chesil Beach. Different – the tension coming from within a love story, without the latent violence of the earlier two. Bursts well(!)
Solar. The least successful, imho; a sub-Frayn ecofarce.

And now Sweet Tooth. As before, McEwan bases the read on tension, but this time within a genre where that’s expected – the spy thriller. The big twist at the end is exceptionally clever and brilliant – one of those endings that almost takes your breath away, leaves you physically reeling for a while. (The nearest comparison I can remember is Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room.) But it’s not a spy thriller ending: the book’s weakness for me was in promising a spy book but delivering a love story meshed in (again) with Litratchah: literature about the writing of literature is inevitably a disappointment (unless it’s by an Ancient Greek or Roman, natch #theOdyssey). Too many festivals and creative writing courses.
One of McEwan’s main aims is to recreate the heady atmosphere of early-70s 3-day-week Cold-War literary London. Mart appears, Angus Wilson gets a namecheck, and I learnt about Ian Hamilton and his sessions at the Pillars of Hercules – see screenshots for more.

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