“To be bound in a nutshell, see the world in two inches of ivory, in a grain of sand. Why not, when all of literature, all of art, of human endeavour, is just a speck in the universe of possible things.”
Nutshell by Ian McEwan is… legitimately insane. I loved every word of it, of course, but it was batty. It is an original and very modern update of Hamlet, which is Shakespeare at his broody best, by far my favorite play. In Nutshell, Trudy is not a queen, but a young separated housewife who has betrayed her husband, John, with his brother, Claude. Sound familiar?
Our protagonist is not a moody teenage prince, but instead he is a full term fetus telling the story from inside his mother’s womb. There is no action except what the fetus can feel and hear and what he knows so far, which is a lot more than you might think. In this story, the unborn take in opinions and information from television and podcasts, and through this, our narrator has already become a dreadful, hilarious snob.
When Trudy and Claude up the ante on their betrayal to a murder plot, our narrator has to try and intervene. No small feat when you don’t actually exist outside of someone else’s body.
I look forward to everything that McEwan writes and I read them over and over. The prose in Nutshell is astonishingly beautiful, sometimes cruel and shocking and once or twice so funny I had to read parts aloud to a friend. Whether you will be as taken with his creation as I am, I don’t know, but it will be hard to find a more original storytelling device anywhere.
Grade – A