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October 2, 2016 | by  | in Books |
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Nutshell

★★★

Author: Ian McEwan

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

 

With 2016 the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (sad), we’ve been assailed with a slew of retellings and tributes to the Bard in the literary world. Novelists Anne Tyler, Jeanette Winterson, and Howard Jacobson have already published their Shakespeare-inspired novels, with Margaret Atwood set to release her retelling of The Tempest. Joining the ranks is Ian McEwan with Nutshell, his homage to Hamlet.

This is a story with perhaps the most unlikely of narrators—a third-trimester fetus. As might be expected, this is no average fetus drifting serenely in amniotic fluid—this is a fetus with a formidable intelligence, educated on podcasts, and up-to-date on current events, biding its time until it will enter the world and claim its destiny. Not only that, but this fetus possesses an alarming knowledge of wine, thanks to its negligent carrier.

Trudy is heavily pregnant and separated from her husband John, a lovesick, mildly successful poet. Residing in the dilapidated yet valuable marital home she’s taken up with John’s witless brother Claude, and together the callous and greedy pair hatch a shonky plan to sell the house and earn a cool few million. Their only witness to this villainy is, of course, the aforementioned fetus, who hears all from the womb.

If you’re thinking it all sounds a bit ridiculous, that’s because it is—but it has to be, and McEwan is clearly enjoying the absurdity of it all. It’s his most ludicrous plot yet, but once your disbelief is suspended it’s an entertaining, playful read. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, McEwan is getting crustier with age, using the fetus as a mouthpiece for his views on civilisation and, most bizarrely, transgender people. Did you really have to enforce your own bigotry on an innocent unborn baby, even one so educated? For that, I’m knocking off a star.

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