“There was, in my view, an unwritten contract with the reader that the writer must honour … The invented had to be as solid and as self-consistent as the actual.”

As a moderator, it’s always interesting to predict the reactions of our Brown Baggers. Ian McEwan is a popular author as well as a critical darling. He has been nominated for the Man Booker prize six times, winning in 1998 for Amsterdam. General reviews of Sweet Tooth, the group’s selection for November, were positive, although a few critics noted that it was not McEwan’s finest work. Our group mostly fell along the lines of the latter reviewers, noting the lack of depth in characterization and problems with the voice of the female narrator. When compared to some of the author’s earlier books, Sweet Tooth fell flat for some readers. Group members instead recommended Atonement, Saturday, and Solar as other books by McEwan to try.

Some group members did note that McEwan did succeed capturing a certain bleak atmosphere, demonstrating the not-so-glamorous side of espionage. It was also interesting to see that along with earlier 2013 Brown Bag reads The Sense of an Ending and American Pastoral, this book tackled some of the same questions and reflections on age, memory, relative truth, and the purpose and power of fiction.

Group members also discussed a few authors who were more successful in subverting narrative expectations or capturing the grim details of spying without losing the reader’s interest. Of course, whenever spy novels are the topic at hand, John Le Carré must be mentioned — try one of his classics, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Another title that many group members championed was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Agree or disagree with the Brown Baggers? Share your thoughts in the comments below! Make sure to join us December 19 at noon to pick the bulk of our 2014 selections — check out the JMRL wiki to see reading lists from past years.

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