Nutshell

It's not often that I include a quote in my book reviews, but the writing in this novel is so perfect - brilliant, witty and thoughtful - that it seemed the best way to capture the tragic yet playful spirit of this story, as told by the narrator: a 38-week old fetus. This unborn baby - an innocent yet inquisitive bystander - is privy to a murderous plot involving his parents. His mother, Trudy, has betrayed her husband, John, by taking his brother Claude as her lover. Motivated by greed, Trudy and Claude are devising a plan. 

From the first sentence, I was hooked:

"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 voices 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".

To anyone familiar with Shakespearean tragedies, it is clear from the outset that Nutshell is inspired by Hamlet. Although unnamed, the fetus plays the role of the unborn Prince Hamlet. His mother Trudy resembles Gertrude, and his uncle Claude is named after Claudius. Both stories involve infidelity, conspiracy, murder and revenge.

However, even if you've never read Shakespeare, rest assured that Nutshell stands alone as a worthy novel, with an intriguing plot, well-developed characters and some of the best writing I've read this year.  The original perspective of the unborn baby provides its own amusing insights, such as the descriptions of sex, and the baby's penchant for a good white wine. 

I loved the fact that this was a short book, less than 200 pages, which meant that every word was considered - nothing was superfluous. It's a beautifully written book, from one of the storytelling masters of our time.  

Reviewed by Carmen

Nutshell: A Novel
By Ian McEwan