So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as it muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise. That was in my careless youth. Now, fully inverted, not an inch of space to myself, knees crammed against belly, my thoughts as well as my head are fully engaged. I’ve no choice, my ear is pressed all day and night against the bloody walls. I listen, make mental notes, and I’m troubled. I’m hearing pillow talk of deadly intent and I’m terrified by what awaits me, by what might draw me in.
Yes readers, that quote comes from the perspective of an unborn child. Crazy, right? Oh ho, I think not! This perspective is the reason I had been dying to read Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell.
The novel is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which I love. The unborn child has the vocabulary of an older man, one who has seen things one shouldn’t see. Or hear, for that matter. You see, his mother Trudy and uncle Claude are plotting a murder. While they scheme and plan, the little guy inside is helpless to stop it. Or is he?
I have to admit, I was not sure how this story would turn out. But I enjoyed it immensely. Mr. McEwan took Shakespeare’s words and modernized it for our times, creating a world in which a baby, who has yet to see the outside world, has more sense than the adults around him. The dialogue between Trudy and Claude is halting at times, but it makes sense when you take into account what their relationship really is: suspicious, sexual, dangerous, and full of mistrust. But the baby is the true star of this novel. He is thoughtful, brave and very funny, specifically when Trudy has a glass of wine (or three) to ease the tension. The kid likes a good wine and knows how to tell the difference. But it’s his conflicted love for his mother and the life waiting for him outside the womb that makes him such a compelling character.
Nutshell is a quick read, only 197 pages. So grab a nice glass of wine, have a seat and give this one a read. I highly recommend it.
Photo courtesy of Penguin Randomhouse.