Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwanI hadn’t planned to read Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan’s latest, despite a flurry of media attention (well, NPR-type media). But there it was on the new books shelf in the library, daring me to pick it up. Along with The Dog Stars

It started out well enough, this first-person narrative of a low-level operative in MI5, Britain’s intelligence service. Serena Frome is a 1970s trailblazer of sorts: a female agent who’s asked to do more than just type and file.

Of course, it’s all about Serena’s good looks. And who she’s slept with. And who she might sleep with. As one might expect.

But it was weird, how this clever, book-loving gal—who’s ostensibly writing her own memoir—had nothing to say about her childhood: “Nothing strange or terrible happened to me during my first eighteen years and that is why I’ll skip them.”

Yet she was more than willing to share detailed synopses of the short stories—complete with quotes— written by Tom Haley, the middling, conservative author she’s being paid to “encourage” with MI5 funds.

It was about then that I smelled a rat. A tricksy rat. So I flipped to the end of this by-now tedious novel (oh, so many synopses of bad stories) and discovered the trick.

Now I can be on my way.

I begin to despair of contemporary “lit-tra-chure.” I find it’s so much cleverness for the sake of being clever. No wonder readers flock to genre novelists who take the time to craft well-told stories that appeal to heart and mind.

As I turned to the latest Maisie Dobbs