Real or fake?

the book:

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

published 2012    chapter 9     set in the 1970s


Neil…was looking at a young woman who had turned away from the entire group. She was contemplating an engraving – a view of Venice – on the wall. But not quite. Through an error of alignment by the window dresser, or, as he suddenly found himself imagining, a degree of stubbornness in the woman herself, her gaze was off the picture by several inches and was angled straight into the corner. She was pursuing a thought, an idea, and she didn’t care how she appeared. She didn’t want to be there. She wore an orange silk dress of simple folds and, unlike all the rest, she was barefoot. Her shoes – they must have been her shoes – were lying on their sides by the door, discarded as she came in. She loved freedom. In one hand she held a small black and orange beaded purse, while the other trailed at her side, wrist turned outwards as she lost herself to her idea. Or perhaps a memory. Her head was slightly lowered to reveal the pure line of her neck. Her lips were parted, but only just, as though she was formulating a thought, a word, a name . . . Neil.

observations: In general this blog likes to choose pictures of people wearing clothes, not just the clothes, though there have been exceptions (this is fairly extreme one). Sometimes a perfect outfit pops up in our researches, but it is on a mannequin, a shop dummy; and again we would use such a picture with reluctance – there are examples here and here, and it is possible to deduce there is something within the extracts that seems to justify the use of an inanimate object in these particular cases.

Here we have the rare opposite situation - the woman described above is a shop dummy, and Neil is about to fall in love with her. This is a story within a story in a really rather tricksy book - there is a twist at the end of it which prevents much open discussion of the plot. It is, as is usual with this author, beautifully written and very entertaining, and it is close to impossible to guess where it is going next. The picture of the UK, and particularly London, in the 1970s is very convincing and real. The picture of the security services is also convincing and real, as well as being both funny and horrifying. Whether is more than just a clever book with a clever trick is hard to say.

Links up with: Mrs Bradley likes orange in
an outfit, as does this young woman. Espionage, women and high drama also feature in this book. Another Ian McEwan book here, and he is mentioned in the comments on this entry.

The picture is
Flaming June by Frederick Leighton, a Victorian painter whose reputation has had its ups and downs. It is owned by an art museum in Puerto Rico.


  1. Oh, thank you for showing this picture. I've just finished Sweet Tooth so the picture has particular resonance for me.


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