Book review: Nutshell by Ian McEwan
The protagonist suspects his mother and uncle of scheming to kill his father. Plot sound familiar? And quite appropriately, the book opens with the verse from Hamlet from which it derives its name: “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” Except, in this case, the protagonist is a foetus, still in his mother’s womb and involuntary party and witness to the murder plot.
Within a few deft pages, McEwan establishes the premises of the story – the foetus’ growing awareness of the world he’s about to enter thanks to the radio programmes and podcasts his mother listens to and the conversations he can’t help eavesdropping on, the way he builds associations between objects and concepts he has not yet seen and experienced, and so on – within which the reader can happily suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. McEwan wisely refrains from using a child’s voice for the foetus. Thus, the voice in which the story is narrated is contemplative, humorous, cynical, already a tad world-weary.
Even as the unborn child is keenly aware of the immediate problems, the personal chaos he will soon be born into, he also has to deal with a growing awareness of trouble brewing in the world at large. McEwan touches upon topics like terrorism, the refugee crisis, political correctness, and so on, and, while his takes on these topics are interesting in themselves and, in most cases, blend with the story, in some instances, they do tend to stick out as unnecessary digressions.
In all, McEwan’s precise writing is a pleasure to read as always, and the book is a short, fast-paced and enjoyable read.