Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terroism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially the cultural sphere.
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a 'secret mission' which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage - trust no one.
While Sweet Tooth is not my favourite Ian McEwan novel - Atonement holds that title - I still enjoyed reading about Serena Frome and her time at the CIA in the 1970's. So far, all of the characters that I have encountered in McEwan's books have interesting jobs but are messes as human beings, making them hard to emphasise with, but McEwan has a brilliant way of manipulating the story that you want to follow these selfish and sometimes despicable people further into their story. Although I found the narration a little 'off', I enjoyed reading about Serena whose faults include, but are not limited to, being too proud and self involved. She is a product of her time and upbringing, stumbling through, and is always identified through what men think of her. When reading, I had this feeling that if the book was told from another character's perspective it would be something completely different because of Serena's selfish nature, only seeing what she wants to.
As with a story about spies there is a lot of duplicity. Serena's job at MI5 is just a mask for her love of literature, as the M15 elements of the book are are mask for the meta musings on literature. I especially found the ending fascinating, and really clever, as it gave me a new perspective on the novel as a whole.