2017-11-16 / Opinions

Book Review

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Ian McEwan has written a number of books, never repeating himself. In Nutshell, he tries a technique that not many writers could carry off. He succeeds, though it takes a little getting-used-to. The narrator in this novel is a baby in the womb, about ready to exit, but worried about some things he has overheard.

If the reader feels a reflection from Hamlet, it’s deliberate, although this character is not trying to make up his mind about what to do, he obviously can’t do anything from where he is. The reader may be skeptical that a child in the womb can know so much, but he says,” How is it that I, not even young, not even born yesterday, could know so much, or know enough to be wrong about so much?” He listens, he says, to the radio that his mother likes, as well as the audio books. “Lodged where I am, nothing to do but take in everything, even the trivia – of which there is much.”

Back to Hamlet - the most troubling thing that the baby hears is the conversation between his mother (whom he has to love, he says) and Claude, her lover. The baby is on his father’s side, partly because he likes him, and partly because he finds Claude quite repulsive. Unfortunately for him and his father, his mother Trudy is in love with Claude (who turns out to be her brother-in-law). They are plotting the death of his father.

Trudy has insisted that her husband move out. She needs “space.” He may or may not know about the affair, but he is still in love with his wife, and wants to keep the marriage and his unborn son. That son is becoming increasingly worried about his own future. He assumes that Trudy will want him, but he hears Claude making remarks about what they might do with this child-to-be. They plan to sell the historic, dilapidated house they are living in after getting rid of John. John seems to be an impractical person, a poet and teacher. Trudy is scornful of his poetry, but his son loves it when he recites his own and other poems. He wants badly to somehow warn his father about coming events but is helpless.

Then John announces that he has fallen in love with one of his students and will move back into his house; Trudy and Claude must move out. The plotters have to move sooner than they anticipated. Mistakes might be made; the police might suspect something; they may have to flee. The baby can only listen and wait and hope. Provocative and suspenseful, Nutshell is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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