Ian McEwan

“Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose.” How’s that to pique your interest? Ian McEwan’s Nutshell is, to say the least, unconventional. It’s the story of marital betrayal told from the POV of the fetus growing inside the womb of an adulteress. And it’s very very funny.

McEwan_nutshellThe precocious, yet-to-be-born narrator gets his knowledge of the world from his mother’s BBC radio habit and fears not only the messy world into which he’ll be born but his geographic fate:

my immediate neighborhood will not be palmy Norway—my first choice on account of its gigantic sovereign fund and generous social provision; not my second, Italy, on grounds of regional cuisine and sun-blessed decay; and not even my third, France, for its Pinot Noir and jaunty self-regard. Instead I’ll inherit a less than united kingdom ruled by an esteemed elderly queen, where a businessman-prince, famed for his good works, his elixirs (cauliflower essence to purify the blood) and unconstitutional meddling waits restively for his crown.

He’s also undoubtedly the first wino fetus in literary history as his mother does tend to tipple, aware that alcohol will lower his intelligence but reveling in “a joyous blushful Pinot Noir or a gooseberries Sauvignon (that) sets me turning and tumbling across my secret sea, reeling off the walls of the bouncy castle that is my home.”

The man who cuckolds his father—his uncle no less—is “dull to the point of brilliance, vapid beyond invention, his banality as finely wrought as the arabesques of the Blue Mosque” and each takedown of this hapless creature betters the one that came before it.

Nutshell is inspired by Hamlet (“Oh God that I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space—-were it not that I have bad dreams”), so of course there’s a murder plot, here propelled by a strong suspenseful momentum.

It’s almost as if McEwan has tired of mastering conventional narrative and set himself a seemingly impossible task only to take us somewhere entirely new in a compact novel brimming with gorgeous language and laugh-out-loud hilarity. I loved this book.