This is a great addition to the long list of great novels that Ian McEwan has produced. There were two or three that missed the mark for me – Sunday, Solar and Sweet Tooth. But his previous novel to this, The Children Act, was excellent and this latest is McEwan back to his very best.
Nutshell has the most unusual of viewpoints. It is narrated by an unborn foetus who listens in as his mother and her new lover plot the murder of his real father. Wonderfully different, it is funny at times, gripping and then tense, certainly a novel you won’t forget in a hurry. For those who know their Hamlet, you may recognise a similarity in the plot, as the lover is in fact the narrator’s uncle. The foetus’ mother is called Trudy, as Hamlet’s was Gertrude. While the baby’s true father quoted poetry to his pregnant wife, the usurper talks real-estate prices and plies her with too much wine. The foetus awaits the next surge of wine and is already becoming a connoisseur about the regions and the different vintners.
It is quite a savage tale, the uncle is certainly not worried about the future or indeed the safety of the unborn as he makes love to his brother’s wife. In it’s turn the foetus is unimpressed with him, both his use of language and his lack of interesting conversation. He can do nothing but listen to the plots being hatched and give the occasional kick when the wine is too much or the uncle too close for comfort. As a foetus he has spent too long listening and learning from the radio and a range of pod-casts, absorbing a vast range of history and current affairs. He is already far too learned, but it is the outcome of murderous plot being hatched around him that turns this novel into quite a thriller. Will they get away with what appears to be a perfect crime, sell the posh house in St John’s Wood, pocket a few million and move somewhere cheaper or is their plotting not clever enough. From the unborn’s perspective he wonders what will become of him, unwanted by his uncle and possibly unloved by his murderous mother.
The best read and most loquacious foetus you will encounter in a novel this year.