Book Review: Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Nutshell has already received much attention from the book world, and rightfully so. Ian McEwan has done it again! **Please note this review contains spoilers.
“Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse but John’s not here. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb.
Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.” Summary from Goodreads
Nutshell is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but from an entirely novel perspective – that of a fetus.  Throughout the book McEwan has skillfully paired social commentary with intelligent humor.  This is one smart fetus, and although some have stated that they found this off-putting, I actually found it refreshing. It was an opportunity to see the humor in what we often find depressing  – the woes of today’s technology and information driven society. 
The fetus has gained his wealth of knowledge about his future world entirely through listening: listening to his mother, conversations, the BBC world service, etc. He, unfortunately, hears his mother and uncle formulate a plan to murder his own father. This leads to deep thoughts about the world that he must join. And the fetus finds himself in the midst of an existential crisis – yes, before he is even born: “Anxiously, I finger my cord. It serves for worry beads. Wait, I thought. White it lies ahead of me, what’s wrong with infantile? I’ve heard enough of such talks to have learned to summon the counterarguments. Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking class of solutions. We excite ourselves with dark thoughts in plays, poems, novels, movies. And now in commentaries. Why trust this account when humanity has never been so rich, so health, so long-lived?…” 
And on top of all of this, the fetus must struggle with his limited ability to influence the murder plot. When I was lucky enough to hear McEwan do a reading (at a lovely event organized by Harvard Book Store) McEwan described the fetus as “trustworthy” in that he simply has faith, “faith in life after birth” and remains optimistic even as his beloved parents plot against each other…

If you fancy a witty novel with Shakespeare roots, pick this up. It is not to be missed. 4.5 Stars from Me!

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