Just as Atonement was a self-referential examination of the experience of writing, in which the unreliable narrator tried on different literary styles in the struggle to rewrite the past, Sweet Tooth plays with the experience of reading (reading and misreading books and people). Serena is an naïve reader:
“I didn’t bother much with themes or felicitous phrases and skipped fine descriptions of weather, landscapes and interiors. I wanted characters I could believe in, and I wanted to be made curious about what was to happen with them.”
Later, she says:
“I believed that writers were paid to pretend, and where appropriate should make use of the real world, the one we all shared, to give plausibility to whatever they had made up. So, no tricksy haggling over the limits of their art, no showing disloyalty to the reader by appearing to cross and recross in disguise the borders of the imaginary.”
James Lasdun is far more articulate in his Guardian review of Sweet Tooth, particularly on the expectations raised simply by knowing that you’re reading an Ian McEwan book. I won’t attempt my own about the pleasures and frustrations of reading Sweet Tooth; Lasdun’s review says it better.