I can see Nutshell by Ian McEwan occupying many inches of column space this autumn. Where to start? You must have heard by now that this is the one about the foetus who overhears his mother Trudy and her lover, her brother-in-law Claude, planning to murder Trudy’s husband and father of the narrator.
It is both ingenious and awkward. At one moment I would chuckle at the audacity of the unborn narrator and his take on life, the next I was hit by a brick wall – how would a foetus know that? He is an incredibly sophisticated, philosophical, well-educated foetus. I’m sure I missed loads of literary references. McEwan covers this off very early by saying his mother, Trudy, listens to Radio 4 documentaries by day and mind-improving podcasts by night. I know the reader is expected to suspend disbelief, as we do in the theatre, the fourth wall and all that; but in Nutshell the fourth wall is more a flimsy partition.
Is it too clever? Perhaps. But the author is Ian McEwan whose books I love, so I was prepared to indulge him. At the back of my mind all the way through was, in this foetus an unreliable narrator? After all, he is blind, can’t touch or smell. He doesn’t know everything, although he talks as if he can. He can hear and taste – primarily his mother’s imbibing of red wine. But his take on life is limited and he is not privy to the workings of Trudy’s mind.
For many it will be a Marmite book, a love/hate thing. For me, the narrator’s voice got more sophisticated and all-seeing as the story went on and it began to grate. I read on because I wanted to know who died in the end.
I enjoyed The Children Act more, but they are very different books. Click here to read my review of The Children Act.
If you like ‘Nutshell’, try these novels with unusual narrators:-
‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon
‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold
‘Black Beauty’ by Anna Sewell
‘Nutshell’ by Ian McEwan [UK: Jonathan Cape] Buy at Amazon
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The most unusual narrator: NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan @JonathanCape #bookreview via @Sandra Danby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2aR