Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan review

sweet tooth

I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan and have loved most of his novels, especially his darker ones. Both The Cement Garden and The Comfort of Strangers stayed with me long after I read them and I loved the strong plot line of Atonement, although I was thrown by the way McEwan played with the reader at the end.

Some of McEwan’s plots are better than others and this for me is one of his weaker ones. I was unconvinced by his first-person female narrator, Serena Froome. McEwan keeps reminding us that she is beautiful and several men fall at her feet, yet for the reader she remains elusive. There is very little depth to her character and she simply comes across as frivolous and pasty. I also had to keep reminding myself that I was reading the words of a female narrator. This isn’t usually an issue for me and again I think it’s because Serena’s character is underdeveloped.

Sweet Tooth is set during the Cold War period of the early 1970s. Miss Froome is recruited to MI5, having been groomed by a former lover who brutally rejected her. She soon falls for her MI5 handler, Max, only to be rejected by him too. Then, she is handed an interesting case to work on: Operation Sweet Tooth. Her objective is to recruit up and coming writer Tom Haly on behalf of a fictional arts foundation. The foundation will supplement Haly’s salary so that he can focus on his anti-communist writing, which MI5 is keen to promote. Continue reading

Snow White Must Die

SnowWhiteSnow White Must Die
Nele Neuhaus

In 1997, Tobias (Tobi) Sartorius was convicted for the double murder of two 17-year-old girls: a childhood friend, Laura, and his beautiful girlfriend, Stefanie, aka Snow White because of her resemblance to the Disney character. Neither body was ever found so Tobi’s conviction was based purely on circumstantial evidence.

After 11 years in prison, Tobi returns home to find that his parents have separated, their successful restaurant business has closed and the premises completely run down. Tobi quickly realises that his parents have suffered just as much as him during his absence, and he sets about trying to make amends by cleaning up the property for his father.

The setting is a small, menacing village near Frankfurt, whose inhabitants are insular and wary. Everybody seems to have a dark story of his or her own. And, of course, as with most stories set in a village, there is one very rich and successful family, who appears to hold control over the villagers.

Tobi’s return stirs up the events of the past and he is subjected to a number of attacks. Then, just days after his release, Laura’s body is unearthed and this sets the action into motion, bringing in the detectives, Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein to investigate. Pia begins to question the findings of the original investigation and as she probes the holes in the case, another teenage girl, last seen in the company of Tobi, goes missing. Of course, the villagers are certain that Tobi is to blame.

There are a lot of characters in the book and you will need to concentrate to follow them all throughout this lengthy novel.  Some of them are referred to by their first name, others by their surname, and the author isn’t consistent in using the same name for the same character, which I found very confusing at times.

The characters of the detectives and their colleagues are well drawn and believable. They each have their own domestic issues to deal with, as is usually the case with crime thrillers. Their own stories interweave fluidly with the case they are investigating.

However, most disappointing for me was the character of Tobi who seems two-dimensional and without any real personality. He can’t remember the events leading up to the murders and he just seems to drift along, being far too trusting of everyone. I would have liked to have seen his character developed more by the author. His new friend Amelie, who disappears, has bags of personality and spirit, and the author could have used her as the catalyst to bring Tobi out of his zombie-like state and start working things out for himself much earlier on, rather than just leaving it to the detectives.

Verdict: This is a long and complex novel, which starts off slowly, as the scene is set. At first I was dubious that its contents would keep me gripped. However, it soon picks up pace, with so many twists, turns and red herrings, that I was kept guessing right up to the end.  I would definitely try this author again.

Rating: 3 1/2/5

 

 

The Husband’s Secret

Husbands-Secret

The Husband’s Secret
by Liane Moriarty

This book interweaves the stories of three modern-day Australian women: Cecilia, Tess and Rachel who are brought together in the same city, during a short period, when each is experiencing some upheaval in her own life.

Cecilia seems to have it all: a wonderful husband, a successful Tupperware business and three beautiful daughters. She is organised and happy on the surface, until she touches upon the anxieties she has with her marriage to John-Paul. They haven’t had sex for six months and one of their daughters has seen him crying in the shower recently. To compound her worries, Cecilia has come across a sealed envelope addressed to her, in John-Paul’s handwriting, which reads: ‘For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick. To be opened only in the event of my death.’

She asks John-Paul about it when he phones home from a foreign business trip and he flippantly tells her it’s nothing and she shouldn’t open it. However, he comes home early from his trip and this starts to raise Cecilia’s suspicions. Having agreed not to open it, she does and therein lies the ‘secret’.

The other two characters in the book are Tess whose husband and best friend/cousin have just made a confession of their own and Rachel, a doting grandmother, who is still finding it hard to move on with her life after the murder of her daughter nearly 30 years ago.

In this third person narrative, we, the reader, get the three main characters’ viewpoints, which work successfully, although you may find as I did that some characters’ stories are more interesting than others and you want to stay with them a bit longer. Also, to give space over to these three narratives means that you don’t get as much character development as you would like. I felt that the woman were fairly two-dimensional and I would have liked a little bit more back story to truly understand them and their motivations, etc.

I found it difficult at first to get into this novel. Having just completed three weighty tomes: The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and Life After Life, the almost-frivolous writing annoyed me, but after a short time I settled into this fast-paced, witty style.

One small gripe is that the secret took forever to be revealed, with the author choosing to hold out for as long as she could to reveal it. The problem with this technique is that the reader becomes frustrated and doesn’t want to read about Tess and Rachel until Cecilia has opened the letter. This is a shame as Tess’s story is actually more interesting than Cecilia’s, I thought.

Once the secret is revealed, we can relax (or not!) and the book swings into a nice rhythm, moving between three character threads with ease, bringing them together every now and then until their stories are closely entwined.

The Berlin Wall is used as a very loose metaphor – and I mean ‘loose’. This got in the way of the story I thought as it was too obvious and dull. For me, it served no purpose. I imagine the choice of Tupperware was also a metaphor for sealing in secrets, but maybe I just read too much into that.

The ending was deflating in so many ways, especially Tess’s predictable choice (yawn). It should have finished up with Rachel’s last words instead of going on into an epilogue. This was totally unnecessary and diluted the impact for me. It was a way of saying: actually what John-Paul did wasn’t so bad after all; don’t worry about Connor, it all turned out nice and rosy in the end, blah, blah.

Verdict
This is a pacy page-turner and I would try another novel by this author, when in need of something light. It’s easy reading in a good way and I’d recommend it for a holiday read or something to bury your head in when you want to lose yourself in some chick lit.

Rating: 3/5