Monday, October 10, 2016

Nutshell: Murder Most Foul

Need a break from movies and television? Pick up a copy of Ian McEwan's latest novel, Nutshell. In a slim 200 pages, this book tells a Shakespearean tale of murder, vengeance, and cunning that will satisfy your every literary craving and leave you wanting more. 

Given that this is such a short novel, I am loath to discuss much of the plot. In fact, even the description on the book jacket gives away a plot point that the author only reveals till the end of Chapter Three. The main thing to know is that this novel is narrated completely in the first person. And that person is a nine-month-old fetus. Admit it, that is an immediately intriguing concept. 

Our unnamed narrator lives in London, in the womb of a woman named Trudy, who is separated from her husband John, and sleeping with a man named Claude. She is unhappily pregnant with John's baby, and she and Claude have concocted a plan to get rid of John and get on with their lives. The fetus introduces us to all the characters in this tale, laying out the groundwork for how we got to this point. And then we are plunged into a maze of twists and turns, until we hurtle to a conclusion that seems inevitable only when we get to it. 

Ian McEwan is a brilliant writer, and I never cease to be amazed by his prose. Nutshell is a tour de force, drawing inspiration from Hamlet but giving it the most twenty-first century update imaginable. Only McEwan could describe an embryo in such scientific and poetic detail that it made me simultaneously remember my college seminars in Embryology and Victorian Poetry. This is a novel that can appeal to lovers of both science and literature (ergo in me, McEwan has found the ideal reader) and it casually weaves in references to T.S. Eliot and Dante alongside discussions of global warming and sociopolitical inequality. This fetus is the most articulate and erudite narrator you'll have encountered in your literary wanderings, and while you may want to roll your eyes as he offers up a discourse on New Zealand white wines, he also shows flashes of humorous self-awareness regarding his first world privilege. When he is starting to sound pompous and racist, there will be a sudden shift that acknowledges his limited worldview, having been confined to the womb of a wealthy white woman who listens to random podcasts and the BBC all day. 

Beyond the mesmerizing prose, however, lies a truly thrilling tale that will grip you in its talons and won't let go till the final sentence. For all the narrator's brilliance, he is completely helpless, forced to listen to Trudy's devious plans and see if they come to fruition or implode. All the while, he solipsistically ponders his fate when he finally enters the world that he has hitherto only experienced from the comfort of Trudy's wine-laced womb. It's a remarkable perspective from which to behold the world, and you'll luxuriate in it for a long time after you put the book down. Nutshell is an ideal novel: funny, wise, and thrilling, a perfect jigsaw of genres and themes that come together to produce an unforgettable story.

No comments:

Post a Comment