Ian McEwan once again poses the question of how we can truly know ourselves, let alone another person, but this time he does it with a narrative of Cold War spies and a pretty girl. Sweet Tooth (Nan A. Talese, $26.95) follows the beautiful daughter of a small-town rector from her first love affair at Oxford to the grey, yet heady world of late-Cold War espionage in MI5. Smart but not brilliant, beautiful but not breathtaking, Serena is attracted to men who can teach her something, but ends up being drawn into their games and used as a pawn. McEwan depicts the pressure of the male gaze so accurately it can be difficult to breathe as you watch Serena navigate her way through politics, literature, and friendship. She can trust no one, and you will soon wonder if you can even trust her.
If you’ve only read Grimm’s fairy tales in their simplified, sanitized versions, then you haven’t read Grimm’s fairy tales. Philip Pullman’s new translation of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (Viking, $27.95) includes all of my (and Pullman’s) favorite stories, including “Thousand Furs,” “Godfather Death,” and “Jorinda and Joringel,” and even some that, I must admit, I had never heard of before. The language is simple and vivid, just right for telling a fairy tale. Pullman provides an introduction, marvelous translations, and witty reflections at the end of each tale. For the folklore scholar, the book also includes the ATU (Aarne-Thompson) tale type, similar stories, and cites the source at the end. This is the perfect way to honor the 200th anniversary of the Grimms’ first fairy-tale collection.