As I mentioned in my Challenge Update post, I needed a book by an author whose first name started with I, and Ian McEwan was the first that popped into my head. So Nutshell, his shortest book, was my pick to tick this category off. It was the biggest WASTE of my time…
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.Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.
I hated every minute of listening to this book. And it was largely because I absolutely could not get on board with the central conceit of the story. The narrator is the unnamed male baby of Trudy and John, who is still in-utero, and watches and listens as his mother and uncle plot the murder of his father. So it’s a retelling of Hamlet, except that Hamlet himself is still in the womb, and is more obnoxious even than Hamlet himself.
Just as given to soliloquys and musings, baby Nutshell is not yet born, but has developed already a taste for wine, ruminating on the crispness of particular vintages, and a voracious interest in all things political and cultural. As Trudy, his plotting, infidelous mother, paces uncomfortably around the house and fails to enjoy the final trimester of pregnancy, baby Nutshell is awake, and imbibing not only the wine she keeps drinking, but also the podcasts she listens to, and the talk radio she keeps on at almost all times.
This foetus is preternaturally intelligent. This was my main problem with the book. Trudy is dull and easily led, and seems to have no interests other than having a lot of sex with her lover, but happens to also have a propensity for listening to lofty discussions and podcasts which allows her unborn child to develop an intellect which far outstrips that of either of his parents. But at the same time baby Nutshell states in the opening lines of the book that he doesn’t know what blue is. The disconnect between what a baby could or should know (and indeed, how much they could hear or understand) from inside the womb was too much for me to wrap my head around, and I couldn’t get on board with it in any way.
Also, there was an unnatural amount of sex and drinking. I’m not a prude. I think sex is a healthy part of any relationship and a small drink during pregnancy is unlikely to harm the development of life. But all Trudy does is drink and fuck. And the descriptions of both are, frankly, nauseating. Nobody wants to hear about a sexual encounter from the other end of the penis, and frankly, with the amount of wine Trudy is chugging, baby Nutshell is more likely to have foetal alcohol syndrome than the intelligence he does display.
I’m sure that this book is actually a literary great, and I’m too much of a luddite to enjoy it. Certainly there were a few worthy speeches in there, as the foetus took a break from trying to avert the murder of his father to contemplate the commodification of third-level education. But honestly, I could not take this book seriously, and the disjointed, irregular nature of the narrative, as baby Nutshell segued from listening to murder conspiracies to extolling the virtues of a crisp sancerre was infuriating.
One I absolutely failed to enjoy.