Friday, September 30, 2016
Ian McEwan and the willing suspension of disbelief - and a gap in the education of the narrator
Your taste for Ian McEwan's new novel, Nutshell, will depend on far more than your willing suspension of disbelief - because we're not even talking here about accepting possible narrative but about throwing all expectations of realism aside and putting yourself in the hands of a narrator who is - a fetus. Talking about a concept novel (or conception novel)! We have to be willing to belief, for the sake of enjoying the narrative, that a fetus can not only reflect on its life in the womb but can absorb all of the conversation it (not sure if it's a he or a she) hears from the mom and her acquaintances and make sense of it - not in some childish, dawning way but with all the intelligence and perception and cultural knowledge of - Ian McEwan. So here we have a fetus that not only uses words like helical, for one example, but who also know cultural reference points - like Claude Debussy, for example, and is an enormous wine snob (as is McEwan, it would seem). So either resist it entirely or throw fate to the wind and just accept this nonrealistic premise - the ultimate What-Maisie-Knew novel. So what does this fetus overhear? A plot between the mother and her lover, and some strained and difficult conversations between the mother and the father during their "trial separation." I'm not going to give away the plot mechanism right now, in case you, dear reader, have not yet started this novel; in the next post on the novel I will give it away - but I suspect most readers will figure out what's going on in the first few pages - definitely by the end of the first few chapters. Suffice it to say for the moment that the unnamed fetus-narrator has a great deal of cultural knowledge but there's one work of literature that it has apparently never encountered.