Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Maureen Corrigan's Rather Irrational Review of Ian McEwan's "Sweet Tooth"

Ian McEwan
I finished reading Ian McEwan's new novel, Sweet Tooth, exactly ten minutes ago, so this is not meant to be any kind of a review of the book.  This is simply a reflection on Maureen Corrigan's radio review of the same book for NPR.  I listened to that review a day or so ago when I was maybe 100 pages into the novel, and I was immediately struck by Corrigan's anger and the vicious tone she uses to show her utter contempt for Sweet Tooth.

I now understand her references to McEwan's post-modernist tricks and the like, but I am still dumbfounded that she has trashed Sweet Tooth to such a degree.  Corrigan comes across as a feminist who is outraged that McEwan would dare knock that huge chip from her shoulder.  She is angry because the novel's main character is a woman whom McEwan seems to be ridiculing because of the character's low-brow reading tastes - because, according to Corrigan, McEwan is, in fact, ridiculing all female readers.  Corrigan knows, however, that this is not reason enough to condemn the novel - she has to offer more.  So she claims to have the ability to read McEwan's mind, telling her listeners that he is displaying his contempt for all female readers - or for anyone that enjoys fiction, the very genre McEwan has made his life's work.

First, she calls Sweet Tooth "ingenious" and says she "admired" it.  Then she decides she "hates it" because it is like reading the "equivalent of a snuff film."  Frankly, I suspect that Corrigan had her mind made up  about Sweet Tooth long before she got to the book's final chapter in which McEwan uses the post-modernist trick she claims most irritates her.  (It is, I admit, an effective twist that might very well test the patience of some readers.)

Interesting review - I loved it before I decided to hate it because it is the nearest thing to a snuff film that I have ever seen in a book review.  Here is a link to NPR review.  If you read Sweet Tooth, let me know if the reveiw makes any sense to you.


  1. So interesting, Sam. Thank you for this. I clicked on the link and was going to listen to it but then declined, because I don;t want anything to overly spoil or taint my own reading of this book, later on.
    I am quite a fan of McEwan, even though at times he has exasperated me as a reader. But more often, I have loved his stuff.

  2. Cip, Corrigan's review left me with the impression that she's a one-issue reviewer (feminism) and, because I don't really believe that to be the case, I think she made a big mistake with the "tone" of this one.

  3. I was increasingly frustrated as I read SWEET TOOTH. Listening to corrigans review was very satisfying for me as I realized she was putting words to my unarticulated feeling throughout the reading of this book. It did feel like a out down to me

  4. Anonymous, while I whole heartedly agree with your right to feel that way, I would appreciate a little detail if you have a moment. What bugs me most about Corrigan's strange review is the language she used...not the fact that she hated the book or its theme. She just seems to have gone off the deep end on this one without knowing how to swim her way back to shore. Very weird.

  5. I just finished reading Sweet Tooth and decided to listen to Corrigan's review which my husband had told me about. She seems to have misunderstood the novel as an insult to all female readers of fiction. I didn't see any evidence of this. She simply disliked the ending of the novel so she refers to it as akin to a "snuff" film? Very weird.

  6. I think your onto something about Corrigan's review of "Sweet Tooth," Anonymous. This is one of the worst cases of "overreaction" I have seen in a long time.