From the best-selling author of Atonement, Nutshell is a classic story of murder and deceit, told by a narrator with a perspective and voice unlike any in recent literature. A bravura performance, it is the finest recent work from a true master. To be bound in a nutshell, see the world in two inches of ivory, in a grain of sand. Why not, when all of literature, all of art, of human endeavour is just a speck in the universe of possible things?
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This was my sixth novel by Ian McEwan, and though I'd be hard-pressed to say which has been my favourite so far, it's safe to say "Nutshell" now ranks among my favourite novels of all time. This is one of those audiobooks I felt the need to take on much-hated household chores for, just so I could have a long stretch of listening time, and I listened to this audiobook in one extended, fascinating session (the house looks much better for it too).
A modern and loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, it has all the elements of high drama and theatrics you'd expect from the Bard, but whether you're 'into' Shakespeare, or even familiar with the original play or not hardly matters. Here is a very clever thriller about two lovers plotting murder for entirely selfish motives, the whole of which is narrated by a yet unborn foetus. An unusual and not especially credible narrator you might say, but then I've read books narrated by trees, dogs and horses among other things: the greatest reward comes if you're willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the story.
Trudy and her husband John are currently separated, though they are expecting their first child. The expecting mother claims she needs 'time to herself', but really, she just wants to keep the coast clear in the London marriage home that John inherited from his parents so that she and her lover Claude (who just happens to be John's younger brother) can indulge in frequent passionate sex and even more frequent plotting sessions. John must be gotten rid of, so they can get their hands on the fortune the sale of the house will bring, and nothing is going to get in their way. Possibly.
Our narrator has clearly inherited a large dose of his father's creative genius—John is a published poet and publisher, and baby expresses himself beautifully and with great wit, quotes famous literary authors and happens to be a wine aficionado thanks to his mother's frequent imbibing of fine vintages. He hates and mistrusts his uncle Claude, and for good reason. Apart from Claude possibly wanting to be rid of another man's baby, he's also an insufferable bore whose conversation is entirely made up of platitudes and boring clichés; not clear is whether Claude is a complete fool, or cleverly hiding his true self.
I've seen Rory Kinnear perform in Shakespeare plays, and his Iago, the great villain in Othello, was especially chilling. Here he brings all his talent to give voice to baby and all the other protagonists, and it's a brilliant performance.
But why am I using so many words? I should just copy/paste my spontaneous reaction when I finished the book, which I shared on Facebook:
"THIS BOOK IS BLOODY BRILLIANT!!! Hurry up and get your hands on it, and I defy you to NOT take it all in in one go. Also, if you're considering trying audiobooks, then this is one to go with, brilliantly performed by the fantastic Rory Kinnear, who is among other things, a superb Shakespeare actor, which is entirely fitting for a book referencing Hamlet. But wait! It's a thriller! Narrated by a foetus! With horrible people doing horrible things (plotting murder most foul), in most amusing ways. And needless to say, this being Ian McEwan, beautifully, beautifully written. I loved this book so much, I hurried up to purchase my own audio copy right after having listened to a library loaner. Kinnear's performance is definitely a keeper (and may he narrate many more remarkable books like this one).
Usually I don't buy shorter books because of cost per minute analysis my frugal mind cannot help making. This one is worth at least 2 or 3 listens so factor that in.
I'd suggest ignoring any negative reviews as those people seem to be looking for a traditional whodunit which this is not. This is literature. Brilliant, hilarious, poignant literature. McEwan is a writer's writer. This is one of the best books you will ever listen to. Unless a fetus as wine critic confuses or annoys you, then maybe skip it. If this intrigues you, you will love Nutshell.