Friday, 9 December 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Hey everyone,

I'm having one of those moments where I don't know what to read. Usually when I do this I turn to my TBR jar, which is a jar full of scraps of paper with the names of books on them I have yet to read. So I did this, and I picked out Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. I mean I'm not complaining or anything but I am hesitant about reading such a long book when I'd like to get through quite a few over Christmas. Guess I'll just see - I can always put it down until January if I don't like it.

So anyway, I just finished reading Ian McEwan's Nutshell. It seems very fitting as I am currently studying both Hamlet and McEwan's The Child in Time at university, and so this is an odd mash-up of the two. It's very short - only 200 pages - and I got through it in just a couple of days.


The epigraph to this novel is a line from Hamlet, reading: "Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." After reading this, I knew there would be an emphasis on space, and surprisingly with this came an emphasis on voice. The narrator of our story is an eight-month-old foetus, and it is forced to witness its mother and uncle as they plan the murder of his father. The Hamlet parallels are obvious already, especially when the mother and uncle's names were revealed - Claude and Trudy.

I gave this novel three stars and thought it was just okay. The best parts about this were the links back to the original text. Inside the play, Hamlet struggles with indecision and the times where he chooses to either speak out or remain silent are pivotal. Here, there is an interesting dynamic going on in how the foetus doesn't have this choice - to his parents he has to remain silent, and it is only to the reader he can choose whether to withhold information. Yet as a foetus, he is already blind, and so most of the time the writing describes scenes and emotions through tone and voice and the movements that his mother makes. This was nice, and actually quite refreshing, to read. Another great motif that ran through-out was the constant indecision of whether the foetus loved it's mother. Trudy drinks constantly during the novel and commits some horrific acts, yet the foetus continues to claim that it loves her. This is just like the fickleness we see from Hamlet, and McEwan cleverly adopts this.

But my big problem with this was that I always seemed to be suspending my disbelief. Not only was the foetus talking to me in fluent English, but he was able to describe rooms and emotions to people it wasn't even in contact with. At one point, it describes how it felt the mother put her fingers to her mouth. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that foeuts's can't feel that. I understand it was necessary for the narrative to work and everything, but something about it felt forced. McEwan did well for the majority of the novel to write from such a restricted narrative yet at points it didn't serve him well.

The plot was something I felt was rather flat - probably as a result of the point of view and it's lack of flexibility. Still, the other characters managed to bring a little bit of spice to it despite the short amount of time we were exposed to them. There wasn't really a beginning-middle-end and it felt like the whole story was over so quickly; a big contrast to the original play. This could've been a conscious choice, but maybe the perspective was so narrow that it couldn't hold past 200 pages. Or maybe I'm overthinking it - the feotus has to become a baby at some point. Overall, the plot didn't excite me but there was something I can't pinpoint which kept me reading.

I'm hoping to read McEwan's Atonement at some point in my life, but if I don't like it then I'm unsure of whether to progress with his writing. But that's a thought for another day. I'm trying to figure out what books to take home for Christmas. I'm definitely taking Return of the King and Ruin and Rising (third book in the Grisha Trilogy) but past that I have no idea. Anyway, I hope I'll enjoy A Little Life and will keep you updated with how I get on with it.

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