I have just finished the latest Ian McEwan novella, Nutshell [London: Jonathan Cape, 2016]. You can’t get past the epigraph with its quotation from Hamlet without realizing this is going to be a reworking, reinterpretation, McEwan take on the play. The wife is (Ger)Trudy and her lover, and brother of her husband, is Claude. The McEwan twist is that it is a tale, told by a foetus, full of sounds and funny business but, to begin with, I wondered what it signified; everything or nothing.
A novelist, not least a talented novelist like McEwan, is free to set up his initial premiss any way he likes. So, we are listening to a very smart little foetus who has a command of language and a knowledge of poetry and literature that even McEwan might envy. He also seems, thanks to his mother’s tippling to have become a connoisseur of fine wines. While the observations on the plotting of the lovers who aim to do away with the husband and walk off with the loot, are shrewd and witty, it wasn’t until the events of chapter seven that I fully warmed to the story. From then on it became so engrossing with many and varied twists and turns of the plot, theirs and McEwan’s that I was there alongside the foetal narrator every step of the way.
The novella cleverly makes its way to a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.