Book 21: Nutshell

Nutshell (2016) by Ian McEwan might be based on a familiar story – Shakespeare’s Hamlet – but McEwan proves that a traditional plot does not a traditional novel make.

Basically, the story is told from the perspective of an unborn son stewing inside his mother’s ovaries.

The premise intrigued me – Hamlet from the perspective of a fetus? How interesting!
However, the execution is disappointing. It bored me at the beginning, and even though it ended up picking up the pace as it went on it still didn’t fully live up to my expectations.

“Here’s life’s most limiting truth: it’s always now, always here, never then and there”

It definitely had its strong points – glimmers of insight, it wasn’t too long or too chunky and it moved relatively swiftly. He milked the unusual perspective for all it was worth, including uncomfortable scenes where the mother would engage in sexual activity and the narrator would have an altogether too close for comfort encounter with the intruding appendage.

“A strange mood has seized the almost-educated young. They’re on the march, angry at times, but mostly needful, longing for authority’s blessing, its validation of their chosen identities

McEwan tried to turn the novel into a scathing review of the world today in a nutshell (pardon the pun) and these parts would either be amusing or flat. It made me feel like he failed to get his op-eds into newspapers, couldn’t cut it as a journalist and put all his political musings into a novel instead. 

I did like the thoughts about what we are owed from birth – freedom, maternal and paternal love, innocence. Is the world our birthright? Is unconditional love a birthright? Is space a birthright? Or are these all luxuries? 

“The news, wellspring of all bad dreams”

I enjoyed the nods to Shakespeare, and a lot of the times I enjoyed his writing. It certainly was cleverly written. All in all it was a good book, but not one I’ll be raving about at the top of my lungs. More like a side note to people who fancy themselves savvy in politics or think they’re super interesting at dinner parties. 

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