Read Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy Online


Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. “Kennedy’s prose is lively and assured.” —The New York Times Book Review A good man in a bad world, Jon Sigurdsson is fifty-nine and divorced, a senior civil servant in London who hates many of his colleagues and loathes his work for a government engaged in unmentionable acts.Meg Williams is a bankrupt accountant—two words you don’tLonglisted for the Man Booker Prize.“Kennedy’s prose is lively and assured.” —The New York Times Book Review A good man in a bad world, Jon Sigurdsson is fifty-nine and divorced, a senior civil servant in London who hates many of his colleagues and loathes his work for a government engaged in unmentionable acts.Meg Williams is a bankrupt accountant—two words you don’t want in the same sentence, or anywhere near your résumé. She’s forty-five and shakily sober, living on Telegraph Hill in London, where she can see the city unfurl below her.Somewhere out there is Jon, pinballing around the city with a cell phone and a letter-writing habit he can’t break. He’s a man on the brink, leaking government secrets and affection for a woman he barely knows as he runs for his life.Poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written, Serious Sweet is about two decent, damaged people trying to make moral choices in an immoral world, ready to sacrifice what’s left of themselves for honesty and for a chance at tenderness. As Jon and Meg navigate the sweet and serious heart of London—passing through twenty-four hours that will change them both forever—they tell an unusual and moving love story....

Title : Serious Sweet
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 30194285
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Serious Sweet Reviews

  • Paromjit
    2019-05-15 17:32

    This is a bleak character study of the lives of Jan Sigurdsson and Meg Williams suffering from serious depression. It is set in London in 2014 over a period of 24 hours. Without doubt, it is a demanding read that requires patience before the pieces start to come together through a meandering narrative. It is primarily written through the point of view of Jan and Meg, two traumatised, complex and damaged people who are planning to meet each other, which might appear a straightforward affair, not so here, as you wonder if they will ever make it to the serious sweet. This is a story of loneliness, trying to connect and to reconnect and love.Jan is 59, divorced and a senior civil servant who is heartily sick of the unscrupulous government that he works for and he is not so keen on his fellow workers either. He is a tortured soul, his marriage has broken down and his relationship with his daughter is moribund. His day begins with him trying to free a bird, and travelling around London on edge whilst writing letters and on his mobile planning to be a whistleblower and leaking government secrets. Meg is 45, a bankrupt accountant who now works at a animal sanctuary and an alcoholic who has been one year sober. It is her birthday and her anxieties are palpable such as her meeting with the gynaeocologist. Interspersed are vignettes that highlight city life. It is only at the end of the day that we understand what connects Meg and Jan. I did enjoy the novel although there is an element of having worked for it. Often the narrative is dense, fragmentary and elusive. However, the writing is beautiful at times and spasmodically lyrical. The broken characters and their lives and tribulations are revealed throughout the day and their efforts to be principled people. I particularly was enamoured of the cynicism centred on aspects of London life and government. Thanks to Random House for an ARC.

  • Andrew Smith
    2019-04-23 16:33

    The early pages contain only the inner thoughts of a man performing the task of freeing a small bird from some netting. Rambling. Tortured. Confusing.Then we meet a woman, outside of her house in early morning, still in her night clothes but covered by her coat. Her thoughts, too, are off-centre and disjointed. The text is jarring, it doesn’t flow. It’s neither easy to read or interpret. Shall I give it up? No, not yet. Press on, give it a chance.Gradually it starts to make more sense and descriptions of some routine events prompt memories in me. It’s causing to me ponder, to think. A good thing. It’s not easy to read but it might just be rewarding.The man again. This time he’s thinking back to a time he visited Berlin with his daughter. It’s a city I enjoyed last year and the descriptions and settings are familiar. This is the best section yet… but it’s still rambling.The man, back to the present. There’s nothing happening, just deep impenetrable thoughts. There are some good lines but the whole thing is just too much like hard work. I don’t know where its going and I don’t care any more. I give up!I’ve seen an equal number of one-star and five-star reviews for this book. It’s the former for me, I’m afraid, as that’s my standard allocation for any book I fail to finish. It’s a piece that probably works best for someone with a little patience, who is unafraid to go with the flow, enjoy the good lines when they come and just let the story develop. Unfortunately, that’s not me.My thanks to Random House and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • Elaine
    2019-04-26 17:32

    Do you ever have those anxiety dreams where you urgently need to be at a certain place at a certain time, and obstacles just keep popping up, and instead of getting to that place you get further and further off track as time, of which you are always acutely aware, slips by? I used to have those dreams about needing to be at an exam; more recently, it's usually an international flight. Anyway, many chapters of this book, where our male protagonist just can't seem to make it to a rendezvous with our female protagonist (for what, we, the readers, know will be their last chance for damaged, tender, "serious sweet" love) have that exact nightmarish tension-ratcheting quality. I really enjoyed the writing here. I've seen reviews complaining about the pacing (and others comparing the 24-hour structure to Ulysses). I'm not sure this is quite Joyce-ian, but I thought Kennedy did a deft job communicating just how difficult the minutiae of daily life are for our psychically wounded main characters, while seamlessly weaving in quite a lot of very detailed back story. Kennedy also does well at rendering sympathetic people who are not naturally so. I have been commenting that I have been missing reading about adult women with agency as I make my way through the Booker List. Although Meg seems like the uber-victim at first, she is certainly adult, and by the end, we recognize just how much strength she's had to have to keep looking for love - and daily kindness - after a couple of lifetimes' worth of trauma. The male character, Jon, was more of a stretch for me, largely because his frustrated civil servant turned whistleblower plot remained entirely opaque. That may be a lack of knowledge of British politics on my part. The fatherhood sections with him were powerful though, again with the quotidian quietly anguished groping towards real connection that is this book's calling card. This book is therefore quite moving, if you give into it. It can also be excruciating. I could barely look at the page during Jon's last fit of emotional ineptitude (the one where he hides in the bathroom). I won't say much for fear of spoilers, but the discomfort I felt as the reader was surely nearly as great as the characters' discomfort. Indeed, throughout, the discomfort of knowing (as Kennedy subtly but deftly shows us) that Meg, damaged as she is, is still much more courageous and trustworthy than Jon, the man who uselessly and repeatedly declares that he will keep her "safe" even while he clumsily hurts her, is almost too much to bear. But if you have the fortitude to bear with even the more cringeworthy and painful aspects of ordinary middle aged life, I think Kennedy's ultimately compassionate - "serious" and "sweet" - vision will draw you in.

  • Doug
    2019-05-04 19:38

    Godawful ... it's like some elongated, overextended Mills & Boon romance novel tarted up with literary pretensions ... and pretentious is exactly the word! The basic premise makes absolutely no sense - Jon, a milquetoast civil servant takes to charging women to write them syrupy love notes, and a damaged, alcoholic, bankrupt woman PAYS him 120 pounds to send them to her? WHAT? Imagine the film ''You've Got Mail', but instead of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, cast it with two actors devoid of any charm, wit or charisma - say Michael Gambon at his dourest, and perhaps Booker judge Olivia Williams (who I am presuming foisted this mess on her fellow judges) as Meg. The two then spend 500 pages NOT getting together, with the result being contrivance after contrivance delaying their meet - which includes TWO boring meetings with Jon's boss, and TWO with some bizarre journo called Mixner - which inexplicably leads to Mixner punching Jon in the face - which somehow impels Jon to tell him some longwinded 'scoop' about phone tapping at #10 Downing! None of this makes a lick of sense, neither psychologically nor narratively. The writing is just plain sloppy, as is the non-existent editing ... for example, p. 379 begins "It is late on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a warm autumn." Not a dozen sentences later we read "... the passengers are wearing coats, scarves, hats -responding to the little shock of winter's first real cold". Huh? By the time we get to the details of Meg's gynecological horror story, and Jon locks himself in the bathroom sobbing, I'd had plenty!A few years ago, SF Opera did a disastrously boring 5+ hour long production of 'Don Giovanni', and patrons took to making bumper stickers stating 'I survived SF Opera's Don Giovanni'. That's how I feel about actually wading through this interminable dreck to the end. To be fair, Kennedy does show some glimmers of writing talent - but halfway through the only enjoyment I got from this was inventing a drinking game of taking a shot anytime the author indulged in her odd, annoying habit of repeating a word three times - so maybe I was plastered more than not, as she seems to do that about every third page! It is unconscionable that this was nominated for a Booker when I can off the top of my head think of a dozen more worthy nominees ... I may consider suicide if it actually makes the short list!

  • Anya
    2019-05-19 17:24

    I've rarely ever been so exhilarated to finish a book.This is a book I absolutely couldn't stand- stream of conscious prose written by two alternating narrators who think and speak as if they are continuously hyperventilating. The sentences are so jerky and dense with awkward information that I couldn't care less about, that reading this monster tome was to me, akin to slow, self-induced torture.I couldn't care less about any of the characters or plot (or lack thereof). I would have tossed this novel after the first 10 pages, but I am a completionist. I, admittedly, sprinted through the last 50 pages,because it was just too excruciating...

  • Neil
    2019-04-24 15:42

    Writing in The Telegraph, James Walton says "A L Kennedy’s new novel confirms her status as a big-time author – but only, I’m afraid, by firmly suggesting that her publisher is now too scared to edit her."Whilst this is a rather cutting comment, I have to say I agree: for me, this book is a mess and could do with being substantially shorter. For a start, it could lose the surfeit of the f-word. I am not prudish and I don't object to swearing in novels, but there's an awful lot of it here and I can't see the purpose. All it achieved was to make me dislike the protagonists. Maybe that was the point. Anyway, the book would be several dozen pages shorter and much more pleasant to read if the bad language was removed! Although everything in the book seems to be approached in a jaundiced and snide way which I didn't personally like. I think it is supposed to be humour, but it isn't my sense of humour (there are some funny parts, I have to admit).In essence, this is the story of two people trying to meet up in London, which turns out to be not as easy as you might think. As I believe is the case in other A L Kennedy books, the narrative switches between description and interior monologue. I think whether you like this book or not will depend largely on how you react to the writing style. Unfortunately, it just annoyed me! And there is just too much of it, especially the interior monologues.Somewhere in here, there is a tender love story about two damaged people who could, potentially, help to heal one another. But, for me, at least, that story was lost in the noise. This book and I did not get on well together and I only finished it because I want to read the full Man Booker long list: under normal circumstances, I would have put it down well before half way.

  • Lestat
    2019-05-14 14:25

    I picked up this novel simply because it's on the Booker 2016 longlist. And it's possibly a decision I shall live to regret for a while coming.The story is essentially about two people, Jon and Meg, who are having a bad day. But they meet each other and love is in the air and that's supposed to be the crux of it. Well, can I just say that a simple story like that does not need to drag itself over 500+ pages. I wouldn't complain about the length of the book if there are had been some fantastic substance in every given page. But there wasn't. It's awful, meandering and pretentious prose pretending to be erudite. Am I sounding harsh? Good, because that's the point.This book needed a serious editor. One who would slash the junk and make it resemble something close to coherent. At the very least, the editor could have weeded out the typos - of which there were one too many.The biggest problem with this book is that in its effort to copy the patterns of real-life speech it comes across as completely garbled. I felt like there were more ellipses in this book than alphabets. Given how often professors of writing courses declare war on ellipses and italics, it's a surprise to see plenty of both in the book.The internal monologues of the characters are all in italics, which is a pain to read visually, as well as stylistically. Too many expository monologues in between the scenes halted proceedings and made the characters read as pedantic. In short, they were annoying. There's a section early on when Meg is at the gynaecologist and her every move is followed by an italicised thought along the lines of 'I can't do this today.' For goodness' sake! The woman is over forty, get it together and just meet the bloody doc! Why she's at the doc, however, is never made clear, because it's part of an extended overlong monologue that has lots of words in it but zero meaning or context. Both protagonists come across as being on the autism spectrum, with manic-depressive tendencies. I suppose we're supposed to believe they're just having a bad day, but that's not it. Of course, one would understand their circumstances better if any context and explanations of their current situations were actually provided. Nothing makes sense because it is, as mentioned above, written in fragments. Very few pieces of dialogue by the protagonists are written in complete paragraphs. The only character who seemingly always speaks in complete sentences is Jon's colleague, Chalice. His menacing monologues were well-written but out of place as we had no preamble for his threats. Turns out there was some corporate espionage going on that completely flew past my head. I want to put it down to the fact that I'm not British enough to understand it all, but I think the fact that there is literally no information or inclination towards politicking given in the book contributed to me missing this plotline. While Jon gets to suffer several different kinds of existential crises (divorced from his wife, worried about his growing daughter and her affairs, a weird letter-writing fetish, mean colleagues, bringing down his company - apparently - and a burgeoning new relationship), Meg gets to be an ex-alcoholic whose entire story becomes all about Jon and the need to be with him partway through the book. There's also the suggestion (I think) of childhood and adult abuse, because there is no way in hell we could have a female protagonist who didn't suffer abuse and get defined by it. How, as a woman writer, the author couldn't give Meg more substance is beyond me.And let us not forget the overly-pretentious fillers sporadically decorating the entire book. Written as tableaux of typical London life, they come across as unbidden interruptions in an overlong story. They add to page length, and nothing else. They have no bearing on the main story, nor do they impact the characters in anyway.The book frustrated me throughout. It annoyed me that it had not been edited, and that it's ambition wasn't reigned in. This isn't a book made for readers. I know some people liked it, they liked it enough to nominate it for the Booker, but this just makes me wonder if that's an apt yardstick for judging the best books published in Britain. The book has the times of the day preceding several segments, and a few pages in, I couldn't wait for it to read midnight. The only problem is, when it did read midnight there was still half the book left. Suffice to say it left me quite bereft. I have never been happier to shut a book. In conclusion, by reading this review I have saved you the effort of having to trudge through endless pages of tedious pretension.

  • Krista
    2019-05-08 19:36

    And there was the day when Meg had walked through her own park, the Top Park, and seemingly she could watch the push of chlorophyll, the spring fire rising in a green blaze along branches. She'd seen the drift and scatter of white petals, blushed petals, mauve and pink and cream petals, and been struck, been beautifully punched in the heart, by the presence of everything. She'd kept on walking under surely the most beautiful blue on record, a sky that should have been commemorated ever after, a phenomenon of nature. The truth of beauty had given up more truth and then more beauty and then this serious sweet truth, the singing and wordless thing, alight, alight, alight. Serious Sweet started super slowly for me, but since it was the last title from the 2016 Man Booker Prize longlist that I had to wanted to get through (months after the awarding of the prize because it was the second of two books I ordered from Britain as they never did become available for me to buy in Canada), and since I'm an obsessive-completionist type, I powered through, and am happy that I did. Mentally comparing this title to the others, I'm surprised it didn't make the shortlist; it's as expertly constructed and socially aware as anything that did. And it made me cry. She was turning on all the lights she could – she was trying to be honest. That meant he would really be able to see.Which you can't help feeling on your skin.And in the end you say things to each other.I will meet you.You say that and he says that and then it's out loud and in the open and so it might happen.Which is the sort of thing that can make you disappointed.I think maybe that it always does. Always is the same as forever.I will meet you.Serious sweet.It started slowly because it takes a looong time to understand what's going on; to learn and connect to the backstories of the dual protagonists; and to get used to the format of this pair having constant internal arguments between their conscious minds and their contentious and disruptive subconsciousnesses (initially confusing, but ultimately, a fair description of reality). Each chapter is time-stamped and it eventually becomes clear that all of the action takes place in one twenty-four hour span. As Meg and Jon each go about their ordinary lives and have their meeting delayed and rescheduled and delayed again, it's as though Mrs. Dalloway has arranged to meet Leopold Bloom in modern day London, and the more we learn about just how broken and deserving of love each of them is, the more frustrating it becomes that the unimportant demands of modern life are delaying that which seems ever more vital. Even more frustrating is to watch as Meg and Jon talk on the phone or text or recall earlier meetings in which these internal conflicts between their conscious and subconscious minds force each of them to hedge and stammer in an attempt to protect themselves from further hurt. I totally fell for all of author A. J. Kennedy's manipulations.But...But...There is this possibility that opens up as soon as you can tell yourself, your world, your love, darling, sweetheart, treasure, your sweet, your serious sweet, when you can tell her everything. “But...”You want her not to go, not quite yet – dearsweetmybaby – and you do wish that you could have heard – allthatIcould – what you managed to tell her – allthatIam – you really do wonder the words you could have picked and offered, the ones that let her no longer hate you when you deserve to be hated. You are all unsure.So that's the how this book is written, but as for the actual what is written, the plot is all so slowly and expertly meted out that I wouldn't want to give away any of it. I will note that, as a disillusioned civil servant nearing the end of an unremarkable career, Jon devotes much of his internal dialogue to the limp and out-of-touch state of British governance that, pre-Brexit, reads like a warning bell for the revolt of the common voter that was soon to come (in Britain and abroad. Ahem.) And a further, unrelated, note: I liked the way that Jon and Meg are forever seeking and recoiling from human contact – Jon often resorts to holding his own hand when he's feeling threatened – and I laughed at Jon comparing shaking the hand of a Minister to grabbing a sock filled with shit; shuddered along when he was forced to shake the hand of the slimy journo Melkin:The contact was hardly a comfort – like grabbing a starfish, a squid, a dead animal – and the graced area on Jon's palm complained mildly, not liking the touch of hot salt. I was at first impatient with Serious Sweet and was finding it a bit overblown (with its oft thrice-repeated pretensions, I see I see I see), but then I surrendered myself to the conceit and found myself swept along. Totally worthwhile read.

  • MisterHobgoblin
    2019-05-16 19:35

    I have always found Alison Kennedy's books a bit dull, which is a bit of a shame because in real life she is a bit of a live wire with a mordantly dry wit. So I approached Serious Sweet, courtesy of its Booker longlisting, with a bit of trepidation.I needn't have worried.Perhaps it is the basic premise - a middle ranking civil servant working in Tothill Street finds himself out of favour at work and bored by his lonely home life. I was that person, right down to working in Tothill Street, way back 15 years ago. Or perhaps it is the sardonic take on London life in the 21st Century. But whatever it was, I couldn't get enough of Jon Sigurdsson. Meg Williams, on the other hand, as a clerical worker in an animal shelter felt less immediately accessible.The novel itself is a bit like Ulysses. Jon and Meg wander around London over a 24 hour period with a vague intention of meeting up but being waylaid by various people. Meg spends time in hospital, almost as a parallel to Joyce's scene in the maternity hospital. And whilst there is a love story between the two of them, what you really have is an extended study of two characters, set against a wider study of contemporary London (and the wider nation and its government). Neither Jon nor Meg is terribly likeable - Jon is pompous and Meg is a whinger - but neither is either of them contemptible. They are complex, flawed characters who are unhappy with life; the reader comes to want them to have a chance of happiness even if it is not going to be in the terms of a Hollywood Rom Com. The writing really is stellar in terms of creating a sense of person and a sense of place. Kennedy uses a device of third person narrative blended with italicised first person stream of consciousness from both Jon and Meg's perspective. There are also little vignettes dropped in of everyday city life - life in cafes, on the streets , in parks or on the Tube. This scene changing offer welcome relief from what might otherwise have felt too claustrophobic. It also offers enough hooks that anyone who has lived in London will recognise details. Kennedy has a way of making everyday details seem significant, and in such a way that the reader gets an "a-ha" moment on recognising each of those details.The novel is long; there's no getting away from that. And at times, the lack of plot driven action can feel a bit like meandering (which is, of course, what Jon and Meg are doing). There are diversions into politics, philosophy and personal history. There is a wealth of words dedicated to the gap between the personal and the public self. And at times, it can feel slow. But, again like Ulysses, if parts of the text can feel like a bit of a slog, the impression at the end is one of heartfelt beauty and grace. For the reader, it comes together as a complete experience that handsomely repays the effort it took to get there. Over the passage of time, the memory of some novels grow and others recede. I suspect this one is a grower.

  • miss.mesmerized mesmerized
    2019-05-14 20:38

    6:42 am. The day does not start as planned for Jon Sigurdsson. He is a good man, tries to save a small bird thus losing time to prepare for his day as civil servant in Westminster. But what job is this anyway? He hates what he is doing, he hates his colleagues and above all, he hates his life. So much has gone wrong. His wife left him, his daughter despises him and he does not like himself much either. Meg Williams’ day is not really more promising albeit it is her birthday: one year sober. But she still has to fight every day, fight for a life she hates, fight for herself – but is there anything lovable about this self? As the day moves on relentlessly, we get to know them better and finally find out what links them - apart from their depression-like uncertainty and doubt.It is no question at all: this novel duly was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The way A.L. Kennedy interweaves the lives of Jon and Meg is just brilliant. The story proceeds slowly which is the pace her characters need to get to each other. It recedes a step – by looking back in their lives – and then moves on again. Just like Jon and Meg move in their relationship which is not yet existing. A.L. Kennedy makes use of the classic Aristotelian unities: unity of action: Jon and Meg and their complicated way of getting together; unity of time: exactly 24 hours; unity of place: London. But luckily, we do not have a tragedy here, albeit there are tragic moments when you as a reader are tempted to shout at the characters to make them get rid of their depressing, negative thoughts, where everything is on the verge of going totally wrong. And we do not have tragic heroes – just heroes, because the can overcome their fears and do what they want to do, the find the courage to be who they want to be and to accept who and what they are.It is a love story in a certain way, looking at it from the end. But much more it is a story which goes very deep to the darkest and most hidden places of our soul. We have characters who open up and let us look inside them where we find the thoughts and fears that might haunt each of us, too. And it is exactly this, the very close look at the human being, that makes this novel stand out. What I liked especially were the very short episodes inserted in the overall story where we get the chance to be present at a happy, noteworthy moment. Something we should observe much more closely in reality, too – this is something we really can learn from this novel.

  • Robert
    2019-05-13 15:38

    For some strange reason a lot of people on Goodreads have slayed this book but personally I enjoyed it. After all if you take it at face value it's just a romance novel: misfit meets misfit and they fall in love.This is A.L. Kennedy and she'll tackle things different for within this love story there are A LOT of inner monologues, some dialogue and narration. Most of the time the three narrative voice are stuffed on the page. In between the ever growing romance between Jon - a civil servant in trouble and recovering alcoholic Meg there are various scenes of London life and those eventually play a part in the plot. Did I mention that the book is not in chronological order so flashbacks may appear out of nowhere.So for a romance it is like a approaching a puzzle. Like fellow Scots Ali Smith, A.L. Kennedy wants you to play along and put the pieces together. To be honest I got used to the book after 15 pages in and I joined in the fun. A.L. Kennedy is not cruel. She leaves clues and does explain what is happening albeit in a sly way but the fun part is piecing everything together.This is not a book to read if you want something easy going but neither will the book strain your brain cells. It requires a tiny bit of work (judging by the negative reviews I'm starting come to the conclusion that people just lazy readers - am I patronizing? - YES, but it does annoy me that I am reading so many two star reviews when this novel clearly does not deserve it) and Serious Sweet is the type of book that will yield more results if read more than once.

  • Jonathan Pool
    2019-04-29 20:31

    I really tried to warm to Serious Sweet, but the concept of two very mediocre people, two of life's unremarked upon people (Jon and Meg) just didn't grab me.I know London well and I think I got many of the clever references; London Bridge, Elvis Costello.Maybe this just proves that shining a light on the Civil Service reveals the nebulous organisation for what it is: faceless and joyless.The concept of a love affair blossoming when when both the protagonists are weary and beaten failed to convince me.On the upside I liked the switch between thoughts and live dialogue- a stream of consciousness that was the best of the book, for me.

  • cameron
    2019-04-26 20:31

    I couldn't bear to read more than 48 excruciating pages of distorted overly complex narrative drivel. I mean the entire book has thoughts in italics. Are you kidding me? Meandering, pointless, repetitive, boring thoughts. Don't even bother.

  • Ian Jardine
    2019-04-21 14:35

    I have enjoyed many of A L Kennedy's - not equally, but some are outstanding including this one. Before I started I looked at some of the other reviews and I realise this book divides opinion. Some people clearly hated it, which is interesting. Is it a marmite thing (you love it or hate it, no other choices) or is it cultural? To me this book is clever, poignant, well-crafted and funny; really laugh out loud funny at times. But I am a similar age and very similar cultural back ground to Alison Kennedy so maybe that explains partly explains it? The way she describes the characters' thought processes, the way their thoughts loop round, get stuck, return to the same themes, jump off randomly - that's how I think and it seems utterly convincing to me. Yes, this is basically love story albeit a love story between two very damaged and insecure but sensitive and caring people. But it's also a commentary on our times and the social, political and cultural circumstances of 21st century UK.

  • Paul Greaves
    2019-05-19 14:32

    A love story of two London losers: a bankrupt accountant with an alcohol problem who finds herself working in an animal shelter, and a civil servant failing to function after a divorce. Interspersed are brief pen portraits of the city: vignettes of people's chance interactions, kindnesses and prejudices. This weighty tome unfurls as an untidy stream of unedited consciousness for both protagonists. Jon's story opens with a bizarre emotionally hyped and no doubt symbolic freeing of a blackbird from some garden netting. Meg anxiously faces an invasive gynaecological procedure on a backdrop of chaotic homelife and continuing alcohol battles. First person inner voice and third person narrator/observer flit randomly but are similar in tone and neither protagonist distinguishes itself in voice, tone or temperament of angst and self doubt. This leads to a mess of confused, inarticulate flights of ideas and a struggle to follow any kind of timeline of incident. This may be the intent of the style - racing minds struggling through interminable routine, depressing events and unhappy flashbacks, but makes story and character evolution confusing, drawn out and tedious. Many expressed thoughts seem just to be an opportunity for the author to get random pieces of her own half articulated left liberal agenda out, op-ed style, cast randomly as Meg or Jon's momentary world view. Elsewhere the characters observation of their city, and memories of others appear, again feeling more like snippets from edgy travelguides than contributing to the story or having any relevance to the characters, although many of these are reasonably wry and readable. A confused political conspiracy plot with dead letters in the natural history museum, 'House of Cards' / 'Yes Minister' / 'The thick of it' style journalistic and political caricatures, a child abuse scandal and a career ending government downing leak is incongruous and clumsily plotted. There is some charm in the love story driving device of a professional love letter writer falling for one of his clients but the emotional journey of the lovers is unconvincing and ultimately twee, schmalzy and filled with cliches. Overall the novel is an overlong, meandering outpouring of semi-misery from directionless professionals lost in London to no overwhelming tragedy, simply inability to cope and is more boring than bittersweet. Could well be A Little Life for London, with less razor blade cutting self harm, more boozing and less glamour, but quite the same amount of self loathing consciousness streaming. *

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-04-27 21:25

    I loved Kennedy's The Blue Book but found this novel very hard going. While the technique is similar with interior monologues interspersed with conventional narration, what is missing here is the acute, sometimes acidic, humour of the previous book. This is very earnest. And long... too long. Even with the bare bones of a plot, and some lovely vignettes of modern city living, this still feels too random and meandering. And while I like the idea of two rather unprepossessing people falling in love, the literary spectacle needs something more, I feel, for us to cling to in order to make it through the book.Some reviewers have made comparisons with Joyce's Ulysses, but this reminded me more of Woolf's Mrs Dalloway but without the pull. Jon, especially, has shades of the shell-shocked soldier about him and I worried for him throughout the book, even when I was bored with the minutiae of his inner, anxious world. So in lots of ways I think this is both brave and very skillful - but I found myself skimming in order to get through it. A typical Booker book, perhaps: full of literary merit but not the most enjoyable of reads.

  • Emily Fitzpatrick
    2019-05-17 20:39

    I was really not liking this at page 60, usually I give up at this point but I wanted to finish as I am reading the booker prize long list. So I persevered.......for another 30 pages, before deciding no list was worth such agony. If I had to describe this book I would say. "It has a lot of words typed in rows." If there was any meaning I'm afraid I couldn't get my brain to pay any attention to whatever it was these random words were trying to tell me.

  • Cara Hinton
    2019-05-09 22:31

    Really did not enjoy this book. It was tedious and difficult to get through. I tried everything to enjoy this book, even sitting quietly and reading all alone. But I just could not focus on this book. While I think the characters and their flaws and baggage was intriguing and the fact that they found each other with how truly messed up they both were, it was like the author was trying too hard to give you insight into these two characters. You go back and forth between their thoughts (italics), their actions, just written out and their conversations in " ". Then intermixed within all of this are vignettes. Random stories that have NO place within the story. I think you learn on page 440 that they are stories that Meg (one of the main characters) writes in a notebook of things she has seen and make her happy. WOW! Just before the end of the book the reader is told this??? This would have been much better information to have in the beginning so you can see that Meg truly is holding on to the goodness of life and people. Instead you get this overwhelmingly sad feeling that Meg is barely holding on. She can't even commit to taking home a rescue dog (from her work) because of all she has been through.There is too much to unravel in this book, I stayed until the end hoping to find out the answers, but it was all very too little too late.

  • Dorothy
    2019-04-24 22:23

    I liked this book enough that I think I will try to read other works from this author. The story follows the relationship between two dysfunctional people, each looking for love, but too anxious to commit.There were times when I got bogged down by the stream of consciousness dialogue that the hero, Jon, follows within himself but I kept going and it did get better. This is a painful is hard to imagine that people go around with this constant belittling of themselves and the aura of hopelessness that they emit..but I know that they do. Neither of the main characters are relying on alcohol or drugs to ease their pain, although one of them is a recovering alcoholic. When I think of this book, it is the pain it describes that I remember.

  • Sharon
    2019-05-12 14:30

    It takes a lot of mental energy to read about broken people. It took me a while to get into this book but once I got it it had a great flow and was very captivating.

  • Gumble's Yard
    2019-04-21 22:31

    A book long on pages but short in temporarily span - the book isn't over a single day in London and written from the third person viewpoint of two characters. The action (in chapters titled by the time when they start) is interspersed with lengthy interior monologues - the latter are perhaps realistically disordered, but combining this with the "action" itself being largely the shifting thoughts of the characters (from a more exterior viewpoint) the book is particularly difficult to follow and large chunks of it can be (and perhaps are better) skim read: the rambling thoughts of others proving as uninteresting in their details as their dreams are popularly claimed to be. Perhaps admirably in one sense, the book avoids lengthy exposition, but as a result some of the activity hard to follow and the reader struggles to fully understand the characters motivations and back stories - clutching at aspects that are revealed like they are clues in a detective story. The two main characters are Jon and Meg. Jon is a 50 something civil servant - increasingly frustrated by the spin required of him and the special advisers who surround ministers he starts to leak information to press sources. Recently divorced after being cuckolded by a colleague, he had s tastiness relationship with his 20 something daughter as he cannot disguise his dislike of her boyfriend. He has set up a discreet service where for a fee he sends a series of kind, mildly romantic and old-fashioned letters to women (inadvertently providing a cover for his leaking activities). Meg was an accountant and alcoholic, the latter causing her to be bankrupted and disqualified from the former. On the day of the story she has been sober (and a slightly reluctant AA member) for a year and works as an assistant in an animal sanctuary. She was one of Jon's customers and decided to trace him down by waiting outside the PO box he uses, the two met a couple of times and the narrative of the book is that the two are due to meet but Jon is distracted by his civil service bosses (who want him to sound out a hostile journalist they suspect of being behind recent leaks) and by his daughter (dumped by her boyfriend) - leaving Meg to anxiously drift; the two finally meet up at the end of the day. The book is interspersed with vignettes of observed life in London, typically consisting of either people helping strangers, or groups who clearly care for each other - towards the end we realise that Meg has a hobby of looking out for and recording such moments (which perhaps acts as an equivalent to Jon's need to try and create such moments and feelings by his letters). Clearly the work of a talented author and a book with a positive theme - celebrating kindness and decency and small actions against business, politics and unkindness, but one flawed by its style and perhaps more than anything in need of a drastic edit given the amount of superfluous detail and to save the reader having to self-edit by simply skipping much of the book.

  • Kelly
    2019-05-10 20:17

    Ugh this was so drawn out, which is almost ironic when you consider that Serious Sweet is meant to be a romance that develops in exactly one 24 hour period.Clocking in at over 500 pages, with at least half of those largely unnecessary, we are privy to the inner monologues of Meg, an ex-alcoholic, and Jon, a pretty spineless guy who was absolutely, irredeemably boring. The point of this was that these two misfits would find happiness in each other, but I ended the book mostly feeling bad for Meg if Jon was her soulmate, because he needs to grow a pair. This was longlisted for the Man Booker but did not make it to the shortlist and I can see why. I'm a completionist by nature so I saw it through to the end, but there were plenty of eye rolls in the process. Since 2 stars merits an 'it was okay' rating I have to go even lower. Not for me at all.

  • Anne
    2019-05-14 21:38

    This book has touches of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce - and I can't think of any higher praise. It takes place in one day and features two main characters who are brilliantly created. Jon is a civil servant who needs more out of life and Meg is a bit of a whinger and we follow them as they meander so we meander too. It is beautifully written, poetic in places and maybe a bit too long. But again I think that gives the book a strength as the day is long. From the issue with the trousers to the sitting in the station, I was swept up in Kennedy's writing and I really enjoyed the book.I was given a copy of this book by netgalley in return for an honest review.

  • Kathe Coleman
    2019-05-18 15:31

    Serious Sweet by A.L. KennedyThis is the final book I have read from the Man-Booker and have to admit I have not read anything quite like it before so still pondering. I take these challenges seriously so started the book over three time (found her writing hard to follow), made a character list, did chapter summaries and took copious notes and think I finally was able to follow (not comfortable till I get into the author’s head). The novel takes place in just twenty-four hours in modern day London and revolves around not only the traumatic events in the lives of the protagonists (Jon and Meg) that have caused their present day situations but is also a strong satire of modern life in London and the inner workings of the civil service. Jon is 59 and unhappily works for the civil service where he was used to rephrase. . . the man who took away the buts. If there was a part of reality that the service did not like then his job was to step in and rephrase. He is recently divorced and isolated both professionally and personally. He establishes a writing service that for a monthly fee he agreed to provide single women with twelve hand-written letters of affection and respect that would be delivered weekly. This is where he meets Meg. Meg is 59 a recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant that now works at an animal sanctuary. The story meanders as Jon and Meg wander through London trying to find each other (the meandering seemed slow to me). The novel is driven by the “meeting. Will they or won’t they meet and if they do will they be able to help each other walk through the traumas in their lives that are keeping them outliers. Writing is complex honest and at times brilliant but it overshadowed by the bleakness and sadness experienced by both Jon and Meg. As usual with any book that challenges me, I compulsively soldiered through and although I can’t really give it a solid thumbs up but glad I read it. 3.8

  • Laura Spira
    2019-04-29 17:32

    A seriously good book. If I describe it as a day in the life of two damaged people who fall in love it doesn't sound very unusual but it is so well written that it stands out from every other book I've read this year. Kennedy takes us inside her characters' heads very skilfully indeed. The narrative switches between their thoughts, helpfully italicised, and the events of their day. I'm not usually a fan of the stream of consciousness style and at first this seems disjointed but as one gets to know Jon and Meg - as their personalities and the events and people they are dealing with slowly unravel for the reader - the book becomes very compelling. But I had to keep stopping and rereading certain passages because the prose is wonderfully sharp ("he paused to be happy about himself": how many times have we had a conversation with someone like that? The same character is also described as "gentle, like the onset of some disease".) and in places quite lyrical, especially the final coda. It is a novel very rooted in its time and place - the political environment in which Jon operates is deftly sketched and the London in which Jon and Meg flounder, from the strange circumstances of their meeting and their doomed attempts to connect throughout the day, is cleverly evoked. I find it quite odd that both Hot Milk and Eileen made the Man Booker shortlist while this book didn't.(Grateful for a free review copy from Netgalley)

  • Herschel
    2019-05-03 14:30

    Booker prize longlists regularly feature over-long works of self-importance, but rarely can reading them be such a thoroughly miserable experience as this one. The setting is a single day in 21st century London. Two lonely hearts consume page-after-miserable-page of soul searching and self pity as they attempt to overcome various difficulties to meet up. In the course of this we are subjected to almost every waking thought in real time – each musing more banal than the last. Nearly half the book is corrugated with dream-sequence italics, much of it incoherent rage or stream-of-consciousness bilge. If the intention was to make the characters appear isolated and trapped, it succeeds. If it intended to make them interesting, it fails spectacularly. Take this bit for example:“Chiswick High Street is a bit of a walk from Val’s, it takes… usually not as long as it seems to have taken … But I am, at present, in the high street. But something, lots of somethings come before that… But I can’t recall them… Which is too many buts again. But I’m here…”On and on it goes in this vein. That the book is dull is one thing, the fact it runs to more than 500 pages is unforgivable. Where was the editor? Which draft was this?On her website AL Kennedy advises: “Look, just stop reading books by people with too much time on their hands and a loose grip on reality – or at least don’t take them so seriously. Get a hobby.” Quite right too.

  • Alan
    2019-04-29 16:13

    This was probably the most challenging thing I’ve read this year, lots of inner monologue and stream of consciousness from 2 characters who eventually come together over 24 hours. But I did end up liking it in the end. It has a series of plot oases on the way with little 1-2 pages vignettes of positive observed behaviour in London people which you find out are being written by one of the characters as a sort of self-healing program/process. That was one of the disconnecting things in the book because you keep wondering what are these vignettes and what do they have to do with the story. But once you know, you can relax and just enjoy them as little oasis stops along the overall journey.

  • Linda Zagon
    2019-04-24 22:15

    I was extremely disappointed reading "Serious Sweet" by A.L. Kennedy. The description of the novel was interesting. Unfortunately,in my opinion,the plot and the characters are weak and unlikeable.,and don't seem to match the description of the novel. In addition, the storyline seemed disjointed.I struggled finishing this novel and should have stopped sooner. Not every book is for every person.Keeping that in mind, some readers might enjoy this. On the positive side, the author does use creative vocabulary to make London and the surrounding areas appealing. I would like to thank NetGalley for an advanced ARC of this novel.

  • Ronja
    2019-05-10 18:36

    Language-wise it is well written, and in theory the story is intersting, but this is simply not my type of book. Firstly, I found it very difficult to find my way into the narrative, and to be honest, I only read on because it was a present and I felt obliged to give it more of a chance than I would ordinarily have done. The almost permanent inner monologue of the two main characters grates on the nerves very quickly - Jon's much more than Meg's - and I simply didn't feel that the book was giving me anything. Ultimately, I wouldn't recommend it.

  • Marie (UK)
    2019-05-06 15:28

    "Set in 2014, this is a novel of our times. Poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written, " I would love to know who writes the blurb about books because it really cannot be further from the truth.This book, this author tries too hard, writing in italics (for thoughts) and normal text for actual events - vignettes off absolutely no significance in between the action (or inaction). Apparently al this takes place during one ordinary day, its unbelievable affected and twee.