Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 18, 2019

Nutshell, by Ian McEwan

Yes, I know, everyone else read this book three years ago, and I’m only just reading it now that McEwan has another book out for us to enjoy.

The thing is, it has an unborn baby narrator, and my track record with oddball narrators (galahs, babies, dead people) isn’t great.  All of them have one thing in common and that is that they are helpless observers, fated to be unable to change the course of events.  And so it is in Nutshell, where the pregnant mother, Trudy, plots the murder of her husband, John, with his brother and her lover, Claude.  The unborn baby delivers a wide-ranging and often arch view of the rotten state of Denmark the world — taking pot-shots at everything from Islamic extremism to climate change and the US using torture, and he shows off his what he thinks is his erudite knowledge of literature and poetry, all gleaned not from reading, of course, but from podcasts, like many a faker who pretends to have read The Canon.  But he also, in considering his future, vacillates between love of one parent over another, and wanting vengeance for his father’s death but not wanting to pay the penalty himself.  Hamlet? Yes.  Credible? Hardly, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Nutshell is also a satire on the crime genre itself.  Even inexperienced readers of crime novels can see the flaws in the murder plot, and they are meant to.  The novel moves inexorably towards a dénouement that is always in plain sight.  The baby might think he has influenced events, but he is self-deluded, just like everyone else in the novel.  The perpetrators are not as smart as they think they are; and John with his efforts to make Trudy jealous is merely banal (like his poetry).

And just as McEwan skewered the newspaper industry, oh, waaay back with Amsterdam, in Nutshell, he satirises the contemporary obsession with what passes for news.  Baby’s rants are drawn from the scripts of Facebook and talk-back radio: scanty scraps of current affairs from a facile 24/7 news service, delivered as half-baked opinion.  Baby knows as much about Korea as the reader most commonly does: they have a bomb to scare us with, and they are Bad.  Baby’s shallow view of the world, his lack of agency, and his preoccupation with personal matters is ours too.

Nevertheless, the book is enjoyable and it has a satisfying ending.   Pure entertainment…

Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed it here and Kate from Books Are My Favourite and Best reviewed it here.

Author: Ian McEwan
Title: Nutshell
Publisher: Jonathan cape, 2016, 199 pages
ISBN: 9781911214335
Source: Kingston Library


Responses

  1. Oh I’m glad you enjoyed it because I did too and I hadn’t had much use for McEewn in years. I just thought it was fun.
    https://mybecky.blog/2016/11/12/nutshell-by-ian-mcewan/

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    • Yes, that’s it, it’s just fun:)

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  2. I enjoyed Nutshell, the satire. A fun read :)

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  3. I haven’t read it but I do remember reading the reviews from Sue and Kate. I’ll admit the narration turned me away from it.

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    • That’s what I thought too: it was one of those books I was never going to buy, just wait till it turns up at the library.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the link Lisa. I think it’s a little more than pure entertainment – I think there’s satire here on modern values and attitudes – but it is entertaining I agree.

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    • I agree, it’s a satire, but I find satire very entertaining:)

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      • Absolutely, so do I. I guess my point is that satire is entertainment with a purpose rather than “pure” entertainment, if that makes sense?

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  5. Hmm maybe the hype’s died down enough for me to read this. You make it sound so appealing!

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    • Hi Laura, yes, hype can be an author’s worst enemy sometimes…

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  6. I saw him do a reading of this (before it was published) but that wasn’t enough to make me want to read it. Have gone off him for reasons that might be better explained in an email 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, that sounds intriguing….

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  7. Yes, highly entertaining (and really, McEwan should stick to this). In a similar vein is his latest, Machines Like Me.

    Thanks for the link.

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    • I enjoyed your review – and it was much more timely than mine!

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  8. It didn’t appeal when it came out. Maybe I’ll check my library…

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    • Maybe you can tell me, Simon – why does McEwan get so much criticism for writing about the middle class? Other authors do it too, e.g. Jonathan Coe, and they don’t get the same treatment…

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      • I wish I could, Lisa. I’ve seen criticism of that kind. Same could also be said about great women writers like Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym; that’s their territory, and they cover it well – why not? Might just as well criticise artists for painting professional models, or setting up materials for still life paintings…artfully.

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        • It’s strange. From where I sit, he seems harmless enough…

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  9. I think McEwan, and Kate Atkinson for instance, get criticized because they’re almost Literary but not quite, or not all the time. And I think that we think they could be. I listen to McEwan audiobooks when I come across them, mainly because Kate W recommends him.

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    • Could be. But I’ve seen some really nasty critiques that are not about his literariness or otherwise, but about him writing about middle-class white characters.
      It’s like a Tweet I saw the other day, from someone who was sick of hearing about Shakespeare because he was a dead white male. Seriously. For some people, diversity doesn’t mean adding to or enriching cultural products, it means annihilating any cultural products that don’t meet their definitions.

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