From the best-selling author of Atonement, Nutshell is a classic story of murder and deceit, told by a narrator with a perspective and voice unlike any in recent literature. A bravura performance, it is the finest recent work from a true master.
To be bound in a nutshell, see the world in two inches of ivory, in a grain of sand. Why not, when all of literature, all of art, of human endeavour is just a speck in the universe of possible things?
©2016 Ian McEwan (P)2016 Random House Audiobooks
"Short, fast-paced, expertly rendered by a voice it seems written for, this is flawless production, and pure entertainment." (AudioFile)
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
This was my sixth novel by Ian McEwan, and though I'd be hard-pressed to say which has been my favourite so far, it's safe to say "Nutshell" now ranks among my favourite novels of all time. This is one of those audiobooks I felt the need to take on much-hated household chores for, just so I could have a long stretch of listening time, and I listened to this audiobook in one extended, fascinating session (the house looks much better for it too).
A modern and loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, it has all the elements of high drama and theatrics you'd expect from the Bard, but whether you're 'into' Shakespeare, or even familiar with the original play or not hardly matters. Here is a very clever thriller about two lovers plotting murder for entirely selfish motives, the whole of which is narrated by a yet unborn foetus. An unusual and not especially credible narrator you might say, but then I've read books narrated by trees, dogs and horses among other things: the greatest reward comes if you're willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the story.
Trudy and her husband John are currently separated, though they are expecting their first child. The expecting mother claims she needs 'time to herself', but really, she just wants to keep the coast clear in the London marriage home that John inherited from his parents so that she and her lover Claude (who just happens to be John's younger brother) can indulge in frequent passionate sex and even more frequent plotting sessions. John must be gotten rid of, so they can get their hands on the fortune the sale of the house will bring, and nothing is going to get in their way. Possibly.
Our narrator has clearly inherited a large dose of his father's creative genius—John is a published poet and publisher, and baby expresses himself beautifully and with great wit, quotes famous literary authors and happens to be a wine aficionado thanks to his mother's frequent imbibing of fine vintages. He hates and mistrusts his uncle Claude, and for good reason. Apart from Claude possibly wanting to be rid of another man's baby, he's also an insufferable bore whose conversation is entirely made up of platitudes and boring clichés; not clear is whether Claude is a complete fool, or cleverly hiding his true self.
I've seen Rory Kinnear perform in Shakespeare plays, and his Iago, the great villain in Othello, was especially chilling. Here he brings all his talent to give voice to baby and all the other protagonists, and it's a brilliant performance.
But why am I using so many words? I should just copy/paste my spontaneous reaction when I finished the book, which I shared on Facebook:
"THIS BOOK IS BLOODY BRILLIANT!!! Hurry up and get your hands on it, and I defy you to NOT take it all in in one go. Also, if you're considering trying audiobooks, then this is one to go with, brilliantly performed by the fantastic Rory Kinnear, who is among other things, a superb Shakespeare actor, which is entirely fitting for a book referencing Hamlet. But wait! It's a thriller! Narrated by a foetus! With horrible people doing horrible things (plotting murder most foul), in most amusing ways. And needless to say, this being Ian McEwan, beautifully, beautifully written. I loved this book so much, I hurried up to purchase my own audio copy right after having listened to a library loaner. Kinnear's performance is definitely a keeper (and may he narrate many more remarkable books like this one).
McEwan's latest novel (more a novella, really) is a wickedly funny riff on Hamlet. "So here I am, upside down in a woman," the narrator--a fetus--begins. (He's "bound in a nutshell," so to speak.) If you're going to enjoy this book, you have to be willing to go with this premise; if you keep asking how a fetus could have such an extensive vocabulary and sophisticated thoughts, or how he could know so much about what is going on in the world outside the womb, you'll miss the fun.
Trudy is roughly nine months pregnant. Although she separated from her husband John, a not very successful poet and publisher, she still lives in the dilapidated family home in London that he inherited., while John has moved to a flat in Shoreditch. Trudy initially told him that they needed time apart to make the marriage work--but she is deep into an affair with his younger brother Claude, a real estate developer (who has about the same level of class as the current Republican presidential candidate). Despite her advanced pregnancy, Trudy and Claude engage in regular and vigorous sex, leaving our narrator to worry that he will have his fontanel poked in or will absorb some essence of the deplorable Claude into his being. He does, however, enjoy the finer wines that his mother imbibes and has developed quite the connoisseur's palate.
The trouble begins when John announces that he knows about and accepts Trudy and Claude's relationship, confesses that he has a new lover of his own, and states that he wants to move back into the family home. The plot thickens as Trudy and Claude decide that John must go--permanently. And our narrator is positioned to eavesdrop on their plans to murder his father and give him up for adoption. If Shakespeare's Hamlet was hampered by indecision, well, this protagonist is even more incapacitated by his unborn state. Literally and emotionally attached to his mother (he experiences every hormonal and adrenal shift), he is nonetheless horrified by the plot against his father's life and by the thought of Trudy giving him up to live with the detested Claude.
In addition to the obvious parallels to Hamlet, McEwan weaves well-known lines from the play into Nutshell, although the words are sometimes put into the mouths of unexpected characters and sometimes subtly changed, a word here or there. If you're familiar with the play, the effect is delightful--reminiscent of the way in which famous lines by the Bard keep popping up in Tom Stoppard's screenplay for "Shakespeare in Love." And McEwan brings it all to a climax that, in its own context, rivals the final scene of Hamlet. "The rest is chaos."
Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. One of the best of his that I have read. It was thought-provoking and touching. While the foreground story was about a fetus who "hears" a murder plot hatched up between his mother and her lover (his uncle) to kill his father, the background story is about how we are made to love even our most imperfect and/or dangerous love objects. It examines the conflict between love and morality in the human soul.
Usually I don't buy shorter books because of cost per minute analysis my frugal mind cannot help making. This one is worth at least 2 or 3 listens so factor that in.
I'd suggest ignoring any negative reviews as those people seem to be looking for a traditional whodunit which this is not. This is literature. Brilliant, hilarious, poignant literature. McEwan is a writer's writer. This is one of the best books you will ever listen to. Unless a fetus as wine critic confuses or annoys you, then maybe skip it. If this intrigues you, you will love Nutshell.
I was completely captivated by the "voice" created by the author. It is witty, erudite and held my interest from beginning to end. Great writing and great reading. Don't hesitate - go for it.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Alas poor phœtus! I knew him, McEwan: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me in his sac a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is!
Seriously, Hamlet + 3rd Trimester + Conspiracy + Poetry = funky magic. According to Christopher Booker*, "there are only seven basic plots in the whole world -- plots that are recycled again and again in novels, movies, plays and operas." Ian McEwan sucks the Hamlet story right up into the Queen of Denmark's uterus. Not really. This is not Hamlet, rather Hamletesque. I'm going to have to carry this to be or not to be baby through a dreamless night to properly bring her to full-term.
Ian McEwan seems to have been drinking a lot with Martin Amis. This novel seems to be almost too clever, but it is so unique that he kinda pulls the little bugger off. Imagine Hamlet soliloquizing inside his mother as his uncle Claude bangs his c#@k against his mum's thin uterine wall. This is the twisted stuff of literature and art. This is where both dreams and nightmares are born and borne. This novella contains both the spilt seeds of life AND the unfrozen nectar of death. Out of the mouth of unborn babes and placenta-nursing fetuses - tipsy after mum has had her 4th wine - new truths about the world are discovered. I wander, but not far too far; trapped within a membrane, I don't want to give much away.
*This quote is actually directly from an April 2015, NYTimes review of his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Michiko Kakutani
Did my children have mature thoughts while encased in my womb? Heaven forbid! It's enough not to have children in case they can read your thoughts prior to birth. The premise of this book is unusual and intriguing. Very inventive in an eerie sort of way.. Excellent story and performance.
Devora de la Mer
The unique perspective of the inner thoughts of a babe in the womb.
May moments are memorable, especially those where the baby is listening to the adults and commenting on their woes and the sadness in their pathetic lives.
Great performance with dignity and seriousness
Baby's watching you
As with an Ian McEwan work, excellent writing and story telling.
A fetus typically is not expected to have a point of view, this one has an amazing power of "observation" as well as a highly developed philosophical sense, all brought forward by truly brilliant writing. It grew and grew on me and I found myself rewinding many times to review and ruminate on elements that struck me as highly worthy of second (and third) considerations.
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