14 thoughts on “NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan

  1. And surely it is not a mere coincidence that I have read that Wolfe story (ALL THE HUES OF HELL) here in the morning of this same day that I later started just now Ian McEwan’s new novel NUTSHELL where the narrator is still in the womb!
    Tristram Shandy eat your heart out.
    A Nut’s Hell?



    “Who, at the Internet’s inception, would have foreseen the rise and rise of radio, or the renaissance of that archaic word, ‘wireless’?”

    I didn’t think that a narrative from the womb – other than perhaps Tristram Shandy – would actually work. But in McEwan’s hands it so far works brilliantly. And incredibly believably, too. An urbane commentary upon the conversations that the foetus overhears.

  3. TWO

    “No need for an umbilical cord. My father and I are joined in hopeless love.”

    This is pure literature made as close-ordered as the pointless pointillism of pre-birth philately. Pointless poetry, too. It is utterly word waking stuff. I am eking it out. The humility of humiliation, notwithstanding.


    “We’ve built a world too complicated and dangerous for our quarrelsome natures to manage.”

    How true that sounds from “my inland sea and its trillion drifting fragments.”
    Tristram Shandy, the name I have personally given to that ‘my’, learns all manner of things about (y)our world and whose shaft is shafting close to ‘my’ first trimester foetus. And the connection between that shaft’s owner and ‘my’ real father: the poet about owls. This is remarkably prose-styled material, and I wonder if anyone but McEwan could have written it. It is sheer intellectual and empathic bliss. But was it written before Brexit or Trump? (Note today’s date as I write this.)
    Drinking for two, too, on a precarious balcony…

    And this novel, don’t forget, starts with a quote from Hamlet.


    “Words, as I’m beginning to appreciate, can make things true.”

    Like coming into the open – not Tristram or Hamlet, whatever ‘my’ name is or will be – but those already in the open, each of their loves affairs’ beginnings being births in themselves, and their endings deaths,
    McEwan’s unsurpassable literary wit and urbanity – about ‘my’ enceinte mother’s shenanigans, and ‘my’ father’s and uncle’s – are tantamount to ‘my’ wit and urbanity, born in me, sired by this text in a nutshell. ‘Me’ as Reader and Tristram/Hamlet alike.

  6. EIGHT

    The bliss of the well-earned boredom of sheer existence without worry in ‘my’ confinement, and so ‘I’ was wondering what did ‘I’ do to deserve this plot of something far more toxic than Shandy in ‘my’ father’s Smoothie?
    This is the first book he’s reviewed that the reviewer teeters on the edge of dying by falling down the stairs inside one of its characters.
    Out-dumped by the dumper.

  7. NINE, TEN

    “The news is brutal, unreal, a nightmare we can’t wake from.”

    A sentence that seems to sit neatly with today’s news in real-time, on today’s date above, news that the earlier writing of this book could not take into account. But it now makes more sense of the thing that allows the car to start to start working through ‘my’ father’s system. The nightmare was already complete, Threnody and Elodie a criminal rhyme. Many things ‘I’ write in this book are Shakespearean as a flow of syntax and phonetics. She feels ‘my’ iambic kick.

    “He whistles tunelessly as he comes, more Schoenberg than Schubert, a projection of ease rather than the thing itself.”


    “And beyond it, the mystery of how love for my mother swells in proportion to my hatred.’

    What about Elodie? Doesn’t she know something about a certain earlier smooth behaviour? To contradict ‘my’ mother’s’ story to the police of earlier such unsmoothness. Hope that is not a spoiler to ask such questions…
    Real-time reviewing takes on a new dimension of challenge when the narration is by an as yet unborn narrator, one that Tristram Shandy also posed me here.


    “However close you get to others, you can never get inside them, even when you’re inside them.”

    As I have not given out the main plot spoiler in this review, there is equally no spoiler in a cliffhanger that seems to reverse that plot spoiler.

    “But of course, to kill the brain is to kill the will to kill the brain.”


    “Out-griefed, out-wailed,…”

    More than one owl poet, of course. The reviewer should have known.
    There is a certain interface between events when narrated by a voyeur foetus…. never before laid out so baldly, so tangentially, this interface. Not even in Tristram Shandy.


    “…and now the catch is in the keep-net.”

    It’s like a religion being in the womb, somehow believing that there is a life after birth, by listening to the voices. Not controlling by being prssent at that scenario but looking forward to when you retrocausally can do so with Fermat’s ‘least distance’ and Chiang’s ‘arrival’ (a film come out this week?) rather than a never reached ‘Zeno’s Paradox’ of a life. Trochees, Daesh Death by toddler, herrings and Heaney, notwithstanding.

    “It’s already clear to me how much of life is forgotten even as it happens. Most of it.”


    “By now, within the hour could mean within the minute.”

    There are elegantly mentioned in the text more breaking news items dotted about, like the diaspora of refugees and their red seas. But not the two latest big news items that hit our shores before and during the reviewer’s reading of this novel. The dénouement, meanwhile, is convincing (even, via Scotch not Shandy, ‘my’ Gothic vision of ‘my’ late father) and compelling (‘my’ trumping their escape by brexiting her waters)…
    The crafty Chief inspector Woman, notwithstanding.

    Classic novel; with mind-bogglingly tractable turns of phrase expressing remarkable civilised items of knowledge – amazing for someone so young as ‘me’, ‘I’ was going to say. Except he or ‘I’ no doubt gestated, gestalted a literary ‘elephant in the womb’…
    At least the reviewer got to see his mother, at last.


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