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nutshell_cream

Of course I forgot to post this yesterday as part of my fourth in a very short series. And now it’s going to be a slapdash job cause I’m in the middle of writerly work, so here goes:

The premise is outrageous. The narrator is a near-term foetus with a devilish penchant for good quality red wine and the ability to overhear – and fulsomely imagine – his mother and her dealings ‘on the outside’. Here is the blurb:

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse – but John’s not here. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.

The epigraph is, naturally, from Hamlet (Hamlet’s mother was Gertude and his uncle, Claudius. His father is unnamed in the play, he is called either Ghost or King Hamlet, but John is as good a name as any.)

Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams — Shakespeare’s Hamlet

And in keeping his narrator inside something like a nutshell (actually closer to an upside-down pear in size and shape, Mr McEwan, but that wouldn’t have worked nearly as well) McEwan has created a stage of infinite space because the foetus’s understanding of the outside world, his supposings and imaginings are terrifically sophisticated and will push the limits of believability for some/many/most readers.

I liked it, but again wanted something ‘more’ at the end. What is this saying about me? On page 33 I stuck a post-it note on the page with a hopeful prediction but it didn’t happen.

Here is the opening paragraph and it manages to capture your attention immediately:

So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as it muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise. That was in my careless youth. Now, fully inverted, not an inch of space to myself, knees crammed against belly, my thoughts as well as my head are fully engaged. I’ve no choice, my ear is pressed all day and all night against the bloody walls. I listen, make mental notes,and I’m troubled. I’m hearing pillow talk of deadly intent and I’m terrified by what awaits me, by what might draw me in.

SO much here to talk about. This is the opening and it lets you know what you are in for. This is the voice, it’s so authoritative, and this is who you will be with for the rest of the novel. This paragraph tells us the narrator has a sense of humour (‘who I’m in, what I’m in for’) but also an irony (at first the mention of nostalgia by a baby not yet born and a ‘careless youth’makes you think ‘oh hilarious but sad and innocent’ but then you think a little more: Oh! No. This is very knowing, and the words are made more clever. The resentment of the foetus being bound by his mother’s body is amusing – surely the mother will be feeling the same about the resident within. And finally the pillow talk, a plot, and the reader – if she has accepted the words before, if she trusts the author enough to be carried – will read on with excitement.

It’s a brilliantly clever and well-executed book. I haven’t loved all McEwan’s books that I’ve read (and I haven’t read all of his works), but for me, this worked very well.

You can find proper reviews here:

The Guardian called it ‘an elegiac masterpiece’

The Washington Post on McEwan’s ‘preposterously weird little novel’

 

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