Here’s the thing. When you’re feeling feelings the best approach is to repress, ignore, and eat. It is not to confront these feelings by way of literary engagement. Right? Right. So what was I thinking in reading Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell? The book is narrated by a fetus. A fucking fetus.
Put aside the politics of having a novel narrated by a fetus and what that suggests about pro-choice possibilities. Actually, don’t put those aside. That’s a thing to think about. This is a smart, articulate, literary fetus. One who listens to podcasts and has informed opinions about art, politics and ethics. A fetus with (limited) agency: he brings about his birth in an effort to stymie his murderous (actually) mother’s intention to flee the police.
Did I mention the mother in this novel is a murder? Considering teaching Freudian readings of novels? You could do far worse than this: the fetus plots the murder of his mother from within the womb. Blerg.
This is a novel that uses narrative point of view as a gimmick to hook you in. It has some payoff in the moments when the fetus considers (again, I cannot stress enough how problematic it is to have a fetus considering anything) the state of the world it will soon enter: the likelihood of global destruction from global warming, the rise of the robots and the destruction wrought by sectarian violence. But these are a few pages in what is an otherwise sparse plot. And in a novel that cannot help but have character development (hahaha – get it? the character is physically developing as the novel unfolds…) the actual development of anything interesting is nonexistent.
I can say that the whole thing took a couple of hours to read. So if you want something short for a book club, or for the gratified feeling of reading something in a few hours (after wading through something in the 1000 page range *cough* Infinite Jest) then go ahead. Otherwise it’s an easy pass.