NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan

Odd, very odd, extraordinarily clever, somewhat disconcerting, there is a lot to consider, digest and ponder in this latest novel, the fourteenth by Ian McEwan. Also brilliant, weird, and alarming. For a start, the whole story, all 200 pages of it, is narrated by an unborn child, 8 months gestation, from the increasingly confined space of it's mother's womb. We don't know the sex of the baby, but it is quite clearly Hamlet, and the story is yet another retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy. The baby's mother is Trudy (Gertrude), who is married to John, but is now living with her lover, Claude (Claudius) who is John's brother. John is a poet, semi-successful, Claude is a property developer who has his eye on the London house Trudy lives in. John is a huge inconvenience to Claude, and in true Shakespearian style, needs to be disposed of. The two of them hatch a plan to murder John, much to the baby's distress and anger. The baby in turn, hatches it's own plan of revenge against its mother and lover for the murder of its father.

A simple tale you may well think, and that in a nutshell (ha, ha) is what happens in the story. It's brilliance comes, not just from the unique and unexpected style of narration, but also on the commentary the baby makes about relationships, the bond between mother and child, father and child, the unwanted presence of the stepfather - all classic stuff of tragedy since the days of Ancient Greece. We also get a most beguiling and revealing look at life in the womb - the comforting and familiar noises of Trudy's digestive system, the increasingly confined space the baby is living in and the frustration of this, baby's examination of the cord and how it could possibly strangle itself, the ghastliness of Trudy and Claude's lovemaking, the pleasure of the alcohol rush when Trudy partakes of more than she should. It is wonderfully fascinating.

What is not so fascinating, for me at least although many other reviewers seem not to think so, was the endless and out of control commentary on everything in the world. Everything the baby knows comes from the exchanges Trudy has with people in her everyday life, and from what it hears on the radio via the earbuds Trudy wears. Honestly, 99% of it is waffle, has very little if any bearing on the story, and for me is just padding. I realise we have to suspend belief just a bit - an unborn child narrating a murder - and this part of it was fantastic, but the rest of it..... I just did not get the endless ramble. Still, this is a novel definitely worth reading for its sheer brilliance and innovation. 

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