Through some luck of the draw, I’ve spent a lot of time with pretentious people in my lifetime, from all the way from grade school to the working world. They were people smug because they had more than everyone, and they were people who didn’t ever let you forget that, even if you didn’t give a damn.
I chalked it up to their just being insecure about who they were because, really, take away the family trust, and you’ve got nothing — not a personality, not a veritable skill set, just a bunch of bones under their skin, just like everybody else. Quelle horror!
So because of that, I’ve always had an aversion to pretentious people. I can respect confidence or affluence when it’s worth being respected, of course, but never pretentiousness just for the sake of being pretentious. And if I don’t like being around such people, I most certainly do not like reading about them.
See exhibit A: My Bookworm about “The Receptionist.”
It’s a similar distaste I had for Serena, the main character in Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth,” the story of a girl recruited into MI5, the British Security Service, in the early ’70s. She works on a project that takes aim against communism by way of intellectual circles. She’s given a mark and promptly falls in love with him.
This is my first read of McEwan, and I just don’t think I liked his style. I’ve heard that “Atonement” is fantastic, but after really digging the premise of “Sweet Tooth,” I don’t know if I want to check out anything else by him.
Serena just isn’t likable, and when I first started reading this book months ago, I tweeted about how I was struggling to read it because I wasn’t able to connect with her or McEwan’s words. A few people commented back saying to give it time because his other works were stellar, and one said, “You aren’t SUPPOSED to like her,” which suddenly made a bit of sense.
After abandoning it a little less than halfway through, and reading a half-dozen other books in the meantime, I made myself return to “Sweet Tooth,” with some more patience this time around. I ended up liking it a bit more than I think I would have if I trudged through it in one read. But having said that, the plot just seemed like a plodding walk through the mud. I did like the ending, which came as a surprise, even though Serena herself gives the spoiler right in the novel’s first paragraph. But other than that, this was not one of those “wow” books for me.
Win some, lose some, I s’pose.