Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mini-reviews: Sweet Tooth and Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders

Serena Frome graduates from Cambridge and is recruited by MI5. It's 1972 and the intelligence agency hopes to manipulate British culture by giving a grant to writers who will write a certain way. Her first assignment is to get close to a young author named Thomas Haley. She is meant to offer him a fellowship. He agrees, and so begins Operation Sweet Tooth. Before long, Serena and Thomas become romantically involved and it's only a matter of time before Thomas discovers her ulterior motives or Serena's bosses find out she is involved with him.

Sweet Tooth is not particularly long, but it moves slowly. For a book about spies, there is very little action. Instead, the book is an exercise in literary contemplation. Serena and other characters ponder the point of writing and how it can both inspire and damage. In order to enjoy this story (and I'm not sure all readers will), you have to be willing to re-examine what you think about the role of story and the importance of honesty from your author and characters. Reading Sweet Tooth occasionally feels like listening to a really smug professor as he points out all of the connections you missed and glories in being much smarter than you. There is no doubt that McEwan is an incredibly talented writer. But in this book, I wish it felt more like he was giving you a friendly, conspiratorial wink instead of showing off his brain and his writing.

Sweet Tooth
By Ian McEwan
Anchor July 2013
400 pages
From my shelves

Harriet Wolf was a widely renowned writer. Her stories told the story of the enduring romance between an unforgettable couple. But her own life didn't always have a happy ending. Her relationship with her daughter Eleanor was full of turmoil and she spent much of her granddaughters' lives bedridden. When Eleanor ends up in the hospital, her granddaughter Tilton wonders if it is finally time to reveal Harriet's last secret. Maybe bringing the truth to light will bring her sister Ruth home again and perhaps it can even bring peace to their fractured family.

The story moves in multiple narratives and timelines, as we follow Ruth and Tilton in the present while learning about the histories of their mother and grandmother. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. I also felt a definitive Alice Hoffman vibe in places. But I wanted to like this book more than I did. I kept waiting to really connect with the characters and their story, but it never happened for me.

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders
By Julianna Baggott
Little, Brown, and Company August 2015
352 pages
From the library


  1. Hey Lindsey! I just tried to email you but my email bounced back. Do you have a new email address? Send me an email if you have a moment. :)

  2. Book of Wonders sounds like my sort of book too - I love multiple narratives and magical realism - but given your reaction, I won't be putting this at the top of my list.

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