Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What we thought: As a McEwan fan, this short book enthused and irritated me by turns. It’s an extraordinary premise, a domestic crime narrated by an unborn, and a retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy with a comic flair.

Our narrator, physically uncomfortable inside the womb and awkwardly worldly whilst not yet in it, is privy to a plot. His mother and uncle plan to kill his father and leave his own place fragile. Yet this is not the Danish court but St John’s Wood, home to the middle classes; poets, property developers and pretty girls in summer sandals.

As our hero is confined to his in utero existence, the reader is confined to the house. The various floors, the waste, the dust, the dilapidation take the role of proscenium arch, upon which the action plays. Even the entrances and exits are theatrical.

Trudy and Claude want John dead, so they can inherit the crumbling 7K worth family home. She’s pregnant and heavy in the London summer heat. He’s dull and stupid but eminently practical.

Our narrator, whose turn of phrase and panoramic perception comes apparently from listening to radio and podcasts through the wall of the womb, has elder statesman opinions and an innate self-interest.

The plot unwinds with more or less plausibility, the voice convinces more as author than character, but the stage action absorbs through character, quirk and hothouse environment. You leave this book with the sense of leaving the theatre – the director delivered an experience, just not one you might have expected.

A bit like being born.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis, The Wimbledon Poisoner by Nigel Williams, Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

Avoid if you don’t like
: An unborn MC, a claustrophobic atmosphere, authorial intrusion

Ideal accompaniments: A bottle of Sancerre, a hard-boiled egg and Bach’s Air on G String

Genre: Literary fiction, contemporary

Available on Amazon

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