Nutshell by Ian McEwan

I have read most of Ian McEwan’s novels, and whilst nothing really quite beats Atonement for me, I look forward to each and every one of his new releases. And I was very intrigued by Nutshell, which features as its lead protagonist a foetus.

‘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.’ 


The unnamed narrator of Nutshell is, as we know from all the advance publicity, a foetus who bears a startling resemblance to a certain indecisive Danish prince – there is even a clever nod to ‘To be or not to be.’ He is aware that his mother Trudy, who he nonetheless loves fiercely, is being unfaithful to his father with ‘Claude.’ He equally fiercely dislikes Claude, as much for the fact that he is a common, witless boor, as much for the slight against his father, who is a poet. Claude and Trudy are plotting to rid themselves of his father, whilst our narrator listens fretfully and wonders whether he can prevent it.

I found every word spoken by our unusual narrator thrilling. He is a frightful snob, making judgements about the (copious) wine his mother drinks, tolerating the ‘puerile’ World Service, holding forth about identity politics, which is strangely entertaining in a foetus. But as masterfully written as Nutshell is, it’s also hugely pacey. Will the lovers succeed in their plotting? Where will it lead them? I found this modern interpretation of Hamlet totally captivating, right up to its explosive ending.

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