‘Nutshell’ by Ian McEwan

nutshellstarstarstarstarBrilliant! This is McEwan at his best. The whole novel is a monologue by an intelligent, philosophical, articulate fetus who is witness to a murder plot. The storyline is loosely from Hamlet, (I’ll leave you to make those parallels) although it’s not meant to be an exact retelling. It’s a classic tale of murder and deceit, with commentary on life as we know it, thrown in for good measure. The fetus speaks quite casually yet very eloquently, about many aspects of our era, about the world he is about to join. Slow down and savour these parts, even as you are compelled to keep reading to see what happens next in this compact and captivating novel.

Trudy has betrayed her husband John. She’s still in his home, a filthy dilapidated, priceless London townhouse, living with John’s brother Claude. This arrangement is incomprehensible, even to the unborn child, because Claude is banal and vile.  Nevertheless the two have a plan, totally unaware that there is a witness to their plot–an inquisitive and thoughtful nine month old resident of Trudy’s womb.

To give you a flavour of the writing, here is the first paragraph:

“So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as it muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise. That was in my careless youth. Now, fully inverted, not an inch of space to myself, knees crammed against belly, my thoughts as well as my head are fully engaged. I’ve no choice, my ear is pressed all day and night against the bloody walls. I listen, make mental notes, and I’m troubled. I’m hearing pillow talk of deadly intent and I’m terrified by what awaits me, by what might draw me in.”


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