Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

What is life like in the womb?  How much sensibility and intelligence does a baby have before birth and how does it interpret it's world?  This is the premise of Ian McEwan's newest novel, a tour de force that uses a fetus as the main narrator.  This is a fetus with high intelligence, its viewpoints focused and widened by it's mother listening to podcasts and radio discussions.

What a mother she is.  Trudy, twenty-eight and married to the poet John, is not having a standard pregnancy.  She and John have split shortly after conception.  John thinks it is a trial separation, perhaps a pregnant woman's whim.  He expects to return home after the baby's birth.  But that is not likely to happen.  For Trudy has taken up with the odious Claude, a weaselly banal individual who brings out the worst in Trudy.  Who covets the London townhouse Trudy is living in although it still belongs to John and that even dilapidated is worth millions.  Who cares nothing about the baby and indeed seems to wish it harm.  Who is actually John's younger brother, desperate to steal John's inheritance.

Claude and Trudy have incessant sex and drink like maniacs, neither actions those of someone worrying about the health of a baby.  Indeed, the baby hears them making plans for giving him away soon after birth.  But there are even more odious plans ahead.  For Claude is determined to best John in all ways and steal the inheritance he feels should be his.  How can this be accomplished?  There is only one way to get John out of the way forever and Claude and Trudy are more than ready to take the final step necessary to remove John from the earth.  Horrified, the baby can do nothing as he hears the two plotting the murder of his father.  Is there any way to stop these two?

Ian McEwan has written a wonderful jewel of a novel, one that plays off the age-old rivalry of brothers and more specifically, Hamlet, that brooding work of murder and revenge.  But this is far from a melancholy, angst-filled work.  Instead, the language sparkles as the narrator finds his humanity and makes plans to survive and foil the odious pair.  Readers will not be able to resist this baby and it's take on the world and human relationships.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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