Book review – Ian McEwan’s Nutshell

A novella is defined as a work of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

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At just 199 pages, I’m not sure if Ian McEwan’s latest literary output Nutshell qualifies as a novel. I’m sure his legions of supporters will gobble up this wholly original story regardless of its definition, but after I read the final sentence – The rest is chaos – I’m afraid I felt just a little cheated.


Of course it’s cleverly plotted, and dazzlingly written. It couldn’t fail to be, from one of our greatest living writers, the man who created Atonement, Enduring Love, Saturday, The Cement Garden, The Innocent, The Children Act, and many more contemporary literary classics.

Nutshell is narrated by an unborn foetus, who sees his mother and her lover – her husband’s brother – plotting to kill his father. Ring any bells? Yes, the plot gives a very undisguised nod to Hamlet, and some of Mr McEwan’s prose is decidedly Shakespearian at times.

What then are my chances, a blind, dumb invert, an almost-child, still living at home, secured by apron-strings of arterial and venous blood to the would-be murderess?

But shush! The conspirators are talking…

But shush! I’m afraid this feels more like an essay than a fully-formed novel, in the class of Atonement or Saturday. Perhaps he needed to get something out to appease his publishers?

Harsh? Maybe. But can we please have a fully-fledged novel next time, Mr McEwan?

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