NutshellIan McEwan’s “Nutshell” is a most peculiar murder mystery (although not so mysterious) told by a most unusual narrator, the unborn child of one of the perpetrators. “So here I am, upside down in a woman…I count myself an innocent, but it seems I’m party to a plot.”

Although unborn, our narrator has certain very specific likes and dislikes and is not at all subtle about getting what he (she?–gender undetermined but I will refer to as he for the simple ease of it) wants, with kicks and motion. Observing the activity by listening, the narrator describes Trudy (the mother), John (the father) and Claude (the not so bright lover and the narrator’s uncle). Trudy and John are separated at the behest of Trudy, Trudy is living in John’s ramshackle but extremely valuable house and Claude and Trudy are plotting the murder of John so that they can cash in on the value of the house.

Trudy is a nervous and unhappy soon-to-be mother who does not seem to be all that engaged in her own pending motherhood. The narrator describes in unique detail the combination of their lives. “My mother is more than my landlord”. Her intimate relations are his intimate relations. Where she goes, he goes. What she eats, he eats. What she drinks, he drinks.  And my do they drink! “If she wasn’t drinking for two, if I wasn’t sharing the load, she’d be on the floor.” Our narrator becomes an expert on the quality and varietals of the wine they share.

This unborn narrator is an expert on virtually everything and has opinions on all things worldly, which is masterly considering that he has not even been born. He expounds on politics, war , race, religion, climate change, history, gender and politics. His pompous superiority and callow intellectualism make him almost as unlikeable as every other character in this very short novel.

Perhaps it goes without saying that the narrator is keenly focused on two things–the pending murder plot and himself. He is quick to take offense at every slight, particularly when he feels forgotten and not at the center of all things. Ultimately his narcissistic egocentrism (am I being too hard on an unborn child?) cause him to foil his mother and her lover’s best laid plans, changing all of their lives. You will have to read the novel to understand what this means.

Although the book is so strange, without a likable character, it is in it’s own weird way simply brilliant and wonderful. It is Ian McEwan after all. Nutshell would be a great book club book–short and full of things to talk about. Why don’t you read it and tell me what you think? You can check it out at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on