Ian McEwan, Nutshell


It is an odd choice for a narrator, an unborn foetus. There is no way it can be considered a reliable narrator, hampered as it is with a narrow view of events and a propensity for napping at inopportune times.

Have the house-sale papers come already? Has she signed? I don’t know. Sometimes I doze and don’t hear everything. And I don’t care. Having nothing myself, property is not my concern.

In addition, a foetus would normally lack an understanding of the world and of human behavior, but this one seems gifted with an uncanny level of knowledge and wisdom. Some of this has to do with his close connection to his mother.

Her blood beats through me in thuds and I can fee her struggling with a choice. I’m an organ in her body, not separate from her thoughts. I’m party to what she’s about to do. When it comes at last, her decision, her whispered command, her single treacherous utterance, appears to issue from my own untried mouth.

 But still…

The book seems to an ironic study on presentation of self and deception. Given that we are told about the “facts” by the unborn foetus, there are frequent retellings and reassessments of what things must look like, what they must mean, and what must have been intended by the various actors (for the most part, the foetus’ mother, father, and uncle).

The plot is simple enough: The mother has taken the brother-in-law as her lover and kicked her husband out of his family home. The mother and her lover plot the early demise of the husband in order to assume ownership of the house and sell for the large sum that even decrepit houses can fetch in London, to live happily ever after. We are led to believe that the police are ready to arrest them as the mother’s waters break (two weeks early) just as they are packing to escape to another country.  So it is the story of an ill-conceived plan executed in a sloppy manner, with no happy ending.

The twists and turns that occur between these broad lines are written about in a chiseled language with great verve. There is humour and irony, and the pace is quick and lively from beginning to end. A quick 3 to 4-hour read, it is quite a bit of fun.


McEwan, Ian. Nutshell. Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Jonathan Cape/Vintage, a division of Penguin Random House), 2016.

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Nutshell by Ian McEwan


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