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 terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in 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. McEwan's mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: One of McEwan's finest female characters, Serena Frome--"rhymes with plume," the author tells us in the opening line--is both clever and beautiful, a speed-reading lit geek and a math whiz, a 1970s version of the Harvard MBA types who launch life-changing Internet startups. But in the dark and troubled Cold War days in London, there were few options for bright young women. So when a mysterious lover recruits her for the British intelligence service, MI5, Serena throws herself body and soul into an undercover operation code-named Sweet Tooth. What unfolds is a mystery, a romance, and a dazzling display of literary workmanship. Though the action slows to a crawl at times, McEwan is a brilliant and entertaining storyteller whose lines--sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes wickedly wise--had me reaching for my highlighter. --Neal Thompson