Yes, this is another McEwan review! I was a little hesitant to pick up another McEwan because the last disappointed me a little but Nutshell was something else!
Nutshell is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, narrated by a nine-month-old fetus — yes you read right. After reading the first line I was like wow McEwan truly is the king of narration. Who would have thought to write a book from an unborn child? It’s genius! And yes it is implausible (the narrator even tells us everything they are saying is a product of imagination) but it works! It really does work!
You could definitely read this if you haven’t read or watched or consumed Hamlet in some way. However, knowing the structure and themes of the play adds to how incredible this book is.
The play and book follow the mother cheating on her husband with his brother. For this to work, they have to kill her husband. But the son knows something is up. Hamlet obviously goes slightly mad in the play, the baby less so. But the fetus often goes into rambles about life and philosophy which is just as wonderful.
And then there is the main part of the play. Hamlet wants to avenge his father. But how can a fetus do this? With the work of a literary genius, McEwan slots it all into place perfectly.
One thing I would like to mention is that McEwan delves a lot deeper into the female characters which is essential for a contemporary retelling. If he failed to do so it would have been a big red flag. Giving a voice to the female characters he allows the story to take on a slightly different meaning.
It’s incredible how McEwan can make something original out of a play that had been done so many times. I really recommend this book. It is a short and easy read but makes you feel like you’ve read a big bulky classic. (But if he did write an 800-page novel I would read that too!)