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Nutshell: A Novel Paperback – May 30, 2017
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“Smart, funny and utterly captivating.” —The New York Times
“More brilliant than it has any right to be. . . . Suspenseful, dazzlingly clever and gravely profound.” —The Washington Post
“Fantastically entertaining and frequently hilarious.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Nutshell is a joy: unexpected, self-aware, and pleasantly dense with plays on Shakespeare.” —NPR
“Compact, captivating . . . The writing is lean and muscular, often relentlessly gorgeous.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Gorgeous. . . . Offer[s] the reader a voice both distinctive and engaging. . . . Rife with wordplay, social commentary, hilarity, and suspense. . . . Hats off to Ian McEwan.” —The Boston Globe
“A comic tale. . . . It is a masterpiece.” —The Times (London)
“McEwan is a literary pointillist—in control of each keystroke, creating small, precise masterpieces that delight with their linguistic prowess. . . . [A] daring thriller.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Brilliant. . . . This novel is a thing of joy.” —The Economist
“Brims with literary allusions, social commentary and murderous intrigue . . . Gorgeous. . . studded with Joycean reflections on fathers, the wisdom of pop songs and reviews of placenta-filtered fine wine.” —Associated Press
“Nutshell is an orb, a Venetian glass paperweight of a book. . . . It is a consciously late, deliberately elegiac masterpiece, a calling together of everything McEwan has learned and knows about his art.” —The Guardian (London)
“An enthralling read.” —Marie Claire
“Nutshell belongs to that dark tributary of McEwan novels which includes The Cement Garden, The Innocent and Booker-winner Amsterdam—black comedies aswirl with macabre thoughts and foul deeds. It sees McEwan at his most playful. . . . [Readers should] applaud it for its beauty, precision and inventiveness.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A book pulsing with hilarious and brainy brio. . . . He simultaneously spoofs crime fiction and finds a novel mouthpiece for a mordantly entertaining and exhilaratingly intelligent commentary on the modern world.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“[A] tour de force. . . . A slim, clever thriller with the grand good fortune of being written by the inimitable McEwan.” —Buffalo News
“Not only does he pull it off, he does so triumphantly, in the cleverest book I’ve read this year. It’s smart, dark and at times very funny.” —The Daily Mail
“A highly original, imaginative thriller that is as entertaining as it is suspenseful.” —Buzzfeed
“Nutshell may be a short book, but it is not hard to crack. And what lies within—the suspense of a murder plot, the matching game that’s played when a classic story is retold, and the unique perspective of an unborn narrator—is quite pleasurable to both pick through and savor.” —AV Club
“This dark, clever tale is among the best of McEwan’s newer novels.” —The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Fiercely intelligent. . . . At once playful and deadly serious. . . . One of McEwan’s hardest to categorize works, and all the more interesting for it.” —The Times (London)
“Hilarious and compelling.” —The Spectator
“A creative gamble that pays off brilliantly. . . . Witty and gently tragic, this short yet utterly bewitching novel is an ode to humanity’s beauty, selfishness and inextinguishable longing.” —Mail on Sunday
About the Author
Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of sixteen books, including the novels The Children Act; Sweet Tooth; Solar, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize; On Chesil Beach; Saturday;Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the W. H. Smith Literary Award; The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both short-listed for the Booker Prize; Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize; and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award; as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets.
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That's hardly the only tie to Shakespeare's play. Here, too, the protagonist has an uncle who eliminates his brother (the protagonist's father) and shacks up with his brother's wife (the protagonist's mother). The uncle, by the way, is named Claude (rather than Claudius) and the mother is named Trudy (rather than Gertrude). Here, too, there is a poisoned drink, though here it is a Smoothie. And here, too, the protagonist -- after a "to be or not to be" moment -- exacts revenge and retribution of sorts, with the result that his father's murderer is thwarted in his design of living happily ever after off the father's patrimony with the father's widow.
There may be additional parallels between NUTSHELL and "Hamlet" that I am not astute enough to note. There is, however, one HUGE difference: Here, the protagonist is a fetus. About two weeks shy of full term, the fetus is sentient and he tells the tale of his mother's and uncle's perfidy -- as well as their adultery, something the narrator experiences far too closely and far too frequently, randy lad that his uncle is.
NUTSHELL probably should not be analyzed closely. It should simply be read and enjoyed for the imaginative romp that it is, with one surprise twist after another, all the while reveling in a highly skilled writer spinning out a wildly unlikely tale.
Yet it takes the enormous literary genius of McEwan to create an extended dialogue, a vast soliloquy if you will, that allows the unborn Hamlet to construct thoughts that if only a fetus could talk, would represents the pinnacle of uterine soliloquys.
As McEwan has done before, so he has done again in a method and manner that clearly illustrates his authorial genius. No Shakespearean reader can pass up the genius and the intesity of McEwan's continuing literary brilliance!
“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 voice 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 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.”
Can you resist this child?
In prose that celebrates the richness of the English language, Ian McEwan tells the story from the unborn child’s point of view. The narrator has traditional notions of how parents should behave and is distressed that his own are not up to the task, but while residing in his mother’s womb, he cannot help but love her. Unfortunately for him, occasional kicks when his mother is misbehaving are an ineffective method of influencing her behavior. Yet even a fetus is not without resources.
As always, McEwan’s prose is a treat to be savored. Nutshell also showcases his wit. The narrator has extensive insight into the ways of the world, thanks to the knowledge he has absorbed as his mother listens to talk radio and self-improvement tapes. In addition to parenting, the fetal narrator shares his wry opinions about hope and faith and hatred, as well as current events, culture, sex, and the merits of the wines that his mother consumes.
An inspector with Columbo-like mannerisms adds to the humor. Nutshell is a short novel, not as substantial or dramatic as most of McEwan’s other books, but brevity assures that every word counts in a fun novel that works its way to a satisfying conclusion that manages to be both surprising and inevitable.
McEwen, able to plumb the deaths of our souls, must have been oddly innocent of this not quite cross cultural parallel.