Nutshell by Ian McEwan
You all know how huge a fan of Ian McEwan I am, even though he’s a bit polarizing at times. I don’t like all his work equally, either, though most of it can be described as interesting or highly provocative (for every Atonement, there is Between the Sheets, his not-great collection of short stories). I heard about Nutshell, and I was intrigued. The story of death and betrayal, as told by an unborn child? All right. And then I read an interview in which McEwan discussed what it must be like to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your face. Oh, no, other me thought. Are we going back to teenaged-boy territory?
Yes and no. It’s complicated. McEwan tells the story of an unborn child whose mother is plotting to kill his father with his uncle. I didn’t realize this book would be riffing off of Hamlet, but it totally is, and it’s not even subtle. Trudy is his mother’s name, and Claude is his uncle’s. Um, hello? Ian, if you’re going to give us a Shakespeare adaptation, make us work for it, hmmm? Anyway. The narrator is observant and wry and obviously far precocious above his years. We witness with him the tightening of the plot to kill his father and we wonder if he will survive to tell his story.
You guys, I genuinely don’t know what to do with this book. On the one hand, there are some eye-rollingly puerile parts (penis-related, OBVIOUSLY) that make me feel like I took a ride on the Franzen express. On the other hand, it’s a fascinating reading of Hamlet and the ways in which family is both sturdy and fragile, power corrupting and elusive. I can’t decide where this falls in McEwan’s canon: I’m guessing I’ll end it up somewhere in the middle for me. If you like McEwan, you might find this interesting. If you don’t like McEwan, this one will probably piss you off. 3 stars? 3.5? Who knows.