Nutshell – by Ian McEwan

Saturday 24th September

Wow.  And again wow. What a book, what writing, what brilliance; a Booker contender surely, if ever there was one.  I have long been a fan of Ian’s, The Cement Garden, Black Dog, Enduring Love, Atonement, Saturday – and most recently The Children’s Act; all brilliant in their own varied and differing ways – but none as good as this.  Nutshell; and in a nutshell – all human life is here.  Though the book is short, (far too short, I wanted it to last for weeks not days) it is magical, mysterious, clever, funny, thought-provoking and sheer genius.  It is a murder mystery, a poignant love story, a letter to the future, a philosophical treatise, an exercise in imagination – and above all a great read.

And a book like no other; that I have read anyway.  All you need to know is the ridiculous fact that the narrator is an unborn child.  And once you have suspended belief (not that difficult) that this feotus can think and feel in almost sage-like adult words but has to interpret the world through sounds and pulses and movement it all makes perfect sense.  Much of our narrator’s wisdom has come from listened-to radio and podcasts but there is a much deeper understanding of the human (and pre-human) condition at play here.  The whole book is also present tense, which adds an urgency to the writing.  I have become a fan of ‘detective stories’ from Maigret and Mrs Marple of my teenage years, through Rebus and Wallander of late, but in this murder mystery there is no real detective, unless you count the unborn and un-named child as the true detective of the story, half-imagining and half interpreting the motives and actions of its unseen but all too well-heard adult companions.

Sad to have to say goodbye to the book, but so happy to have read it.  It is actually tempting me to re-read the whole thing straight away, but I think a hiatus, a pause and a happy later return is more in order.  Buy it.  Read it.  And be amazed and rewarded as I have been.