Nutshell by Ian McEwan

From TheBookbag
Jump to navigationJump to search

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Buy Nutshell by Ian McEwan at or

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A novel where you're strongly urged to see beyond the headline-grabbing precis, and see the humorous and questioning look at the world's evils it posits.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781911214335

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn


Meet Trudy. Successfully living in a large and valuable London home, she is heavily pregnant, and in between two men – she has swapped the homeowner, poet and publisher John, for someone completely different, namely Claude, a nasty, brutish and short type. Some people cannot work out why on earth she has made that decision, including our narrator. Oh, and he himself, our narrator, is the child she's pregnant with. He is a very alert young thing, with nothing else to do but kick here and there, and practice what you might well call mindfulness, and listen in on Claude and Trudy, as they calmly talk their way to plotting and carrying out murder…

There is a lot more the plot summary could include, but heck – isn't that just unusual enough? I know for many it will be too much – too bizarre a circumstance to base a whole novel around. But I really enjoyed my time with the narrator – on the whole he's great company (well, I found chapter 15 to be completely disposable, but that's by the by). He's nowhere near as naïve and juvenile as you'd expect – no, he's erudite enough to make a great percentage of the readers need their dictionaries at least a couple of times, courtesy of his mother listening to high-brow podcasts and radio lectures. (She used to listen to John spout poetry, but that's now out of the question for her.) No, our unnamed character is a very rich invention. As soon as I'm out and about I might try my hand at a monograph. The world cries out for fresh-faced empiricists.

But the key to the book remains, is this a world really worth entering? Beside the nastiness his mother is planning, there is the inherent frustration. He can hear the delights of the world, and he knows he will be borne into a place of such scientific wonders and intelligence and the safety of a western civilisation, free of the plague and with good dentistry. But everything he is also aware of points to it being a nightmare world, one where mankind has such intellect but wastes it – going back to (any kind of) stultifying, blind religious faith, creating injustice faster than the newborn heart can pulse… I'd have to say, though, that there is a version of this book where the politics are worn a lot less lightly than they are here, and the balance of drama and message is bang on.

Away from the amniotic cell our very-aware hero calls home, we have the other chief characters. Claude is suitably evil (and more than once called stupid, rightfully); I don't think John is written strongly enough to have an instant, gut feeling over; and Trudy – well, she's just a lush. I would never countenance anyone being eight months pregnant and necking so much wine – but then there is the comedy of the baby-to-be being such a connoisseur at such a young age. You could query whether her disregard for the baby, matched by John seeming to be a heavy smoker, and people ignoring her state more than once, is gearing up for a major twist to the ending – when certainly one obvious finale is always a possibility, but it's certainly something where you'd love those reading group notes to finalise quite why she is the way she is.

But throughout these pages the inherent character, the one that drives the book and is its raison d'etre, and the one you will remember for ages, whether in great commemorative collusion or in succinct summary ('oh yeah, that's the one with the foetus…'), is our nameless lead. He's definitely an Ian McEwan prenatal personality, as opposed to something else – perhaps a Chuck Palahniuk one, perish the thought – that potential readers may be dreading. I'd suggest it could only be McEwan behind this book – the unusual perspective, the inquisitive and mindful male character, perhaps bringing us back to the spirit of his earlier works more successfully than many a hit novel since those days, and the very erudite but very readable result. Part of this review has to be directed at those who really would blanch at the subject, and while this is definitely a certificate 15, it's so for perhaps not the reasons you'd assume. Assumptions are best left at the door, where this book is concerned – it is best, as it itself suggests, to get out and live life, and not just base your opinions on it from second-hand, intrauterine hearsay. Recommended.

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven similarly starts from a pregnancy in its path to a meaty drama.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy Nutshell by Ian McEwan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nutshell by Ian McEwan at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Nutshell by Ian McEwan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nutshell by Ian McEwan at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.