Reading Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan was a little bit like reading The Marriage Plot, if that novel had been written by John LeCarre instead of Jeffrey Eugenides--and that's not at all a bad thing! It's set in a world of Cold War-era spies, but features the unlikely heroine of Serena Frome, a young woman with voracious reading habits and indiscriminate literary taste. A childhood aptitude for numbers lands her a spot as a mediocre math student at Cambridge. While there, an affair with an older professor lands her a low-level job in British intelligence. She's eventually called upon to put her bookworm tendencies to use by befriending aspiring author Tom Haley, with the goal of subtly influencing his writing so that he'll produce works with an anti-Communist bent. During the course of her mission she develops a relationship with Tom that eventually leads to a betrayal, a blown cover, and a twist at the end of the novel that I'm still not sure how I feel about.
True to McEwan's typical form, Sweet Tooth creates a compelling, atmospheric world around a cast of characters of a certain class who are--to my mind, at least--quintessentially British. His standard quality of writing is made even more enjoyable by both the espionage intrigue of the plot and the literary references that are peppered throughout Serena's narrative. She talks about reading anything and everything from trashy Jacqueline Susan novels to Persephone favorites like Monica Dickens. Living up to the term "literary fiction", Sweet Tooth is an entertaining read that's likely to score some brownie points with bibliophiles.