Saturday, April 22, 2017


by Ian McEwan
199 pgs

On the one hand, Ian McEwan’s latest book Nutshell is a pretty standard love-triangle-turns-to-murder story. John and Trudy are married, but separated. Trudy is having an affair with Claude, John’s brother. Together they’re plotting John’s murder so they can sell the valuable London townhouse Judy lives in, but owns jointly with John still.

It’s clear McEwan is paying homage to Shakespeare’s Hamlet with his story, even naming Claude after Shakespeare’s Claudius and Trudy after Gertrude. But here’s what makes McEwan’s story so unique, and what made me want to read it, McEwan’s Hamlet character has not yet been born. Judy is 30-something weeks pregnant with John’s child, and it’s the child who serves as narrator of the story.

I’ll pause briefly to let you get your head around that.

Our narrator, an ingeniously-devised “fly on the wall,” who hears the familial plot to kill his--for our narrator discovers he’s a “he” during the course of the book--father with a poisoned smoothie, is able to comprehend the events taking place and he understands the ramifications they will have on his life once he exits his current residence.

This was a daring literary feat attempted by McEwan. In order for it to work well, he had to figure out a way to convince the reader of the plausibility of an unborn child having a comprehensive understanding of the world it’s never experienced, along with the ability to communicate its thoughts. Overall, I’d say McEwan was successful. There were definitely times when I felt like the narrator was too knowledgeable of what was happening outside the womb, but it was fairly easy to forgive those places in the story and simply enjoy the story for what it was. This is the first of McEwan’s books I’ve read, and it was very apparent he’s an excellent writer. I’ll definitely be going back through his earlier catalog and reading more.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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