05 January 2013
Did you know books were published in 2012?
Long before I took up the challenge to read one book from every year of the 20th century, I found myself mainly reading books that couldn't really be described as new or recent. Since so much of what I wanted to read was already on the dusty side, it didn't seem like much of a challenge to focus on books from the 20th century. And with my usual obsessive flair I focused on them to the exclusion of most everything else.
Add to this self-imposed constraint, my inability to trust book recommendations from other people. The more I have immersed myself in the book blogging world over the past six years, the more I have valued blogger recommendations over the recommendations of people I actually know. (Of course I have met quite a few of you in the past few years so the real and virtual worlds have officially collided.) It also doesn't help that the corner of the book blogging world that most intrigues me is the one where Persephone and Virago and NYRB Classics are household names. So even if I did trust a real person's recommendation, I sometimes couldn't get over the fact that the book being recommended was written during my lifetime let alone in the past year.
So this Christmas day I opened a gift from two friends and it happened to be Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. My first thought was "But this isn't on my Century of Books challenge reading list." My second, perhaps slightly more embarrassing thought was "But Ian McEwan's newest book is called Solar. I've seen it all over the blogosphere." [Pause for laughter.]
That's right. I am so out of the loop with recent fiction that Ian McEwan managed to pop out a new, and I must say, stunning, novel that makes Solar old news.
I loved Sweet Tooth. I picked it up after finishing Catch-22. And I mean immediately after. I was so annoyed as I finished the last tedious word on the last tedious page of C22 that I needed something to prove to myself that reading can be enjoyable. [Interesting side note. I first attempted to read C22 about a fifteen years ago. Kind of enjoyed the first 100 or so pages and then started to get bored and never finished it. Well the same damn thing happened this time. I kind of found it amusing and interesting until about 150 pages in and then I couldn't wait for it to be over. But this time I forced myself to finish it. I don't think it was worth the effort.]
Sweet Tooth is the story of a young Cambridge graduate who ends up working for the MI5 in the 1970s. I was immediately taken in with Serena Frome's story and McEwan's writing. I love how McEwan manages to make this story cozy and subversive at the same time. Like the literary love child of Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym. I found the political background interesting, I was intrigued by the milieu of Serena's job, and I loved all of the literary allusions. In some ways this is a book about books for people who like books about books but want to read more than just some book about books.
The thing that so impressed me about this novel is the way McEwan weaves in three or four short story plots into the narrative--essentially Serena describes the stories she is reading. Normally this kind of story within a story annoys me. But McEwan executes them in a way that I found totally fascinating. The man knows how to come up with a good plot. And speaking of plots, I was never sure where Sweet Tooth was headed. There were many points where I thought I knew where things were headed only to find out that I was wrong. He manages to keep up the guessing game right through to the final paragraph.
I wonder if every novel published in 2012 is this enjoyable?
Probably not, but maybe I should make more of an effort to find out. Especially since I have heard rumors that more novels will be published in 2013.