Saturday, October 1, 2016
So for any readers of Ian McEwan's Nutshell who have not yet figured out the plot - it's a retelling of Hamlet, set in contemporary London, and as narrated by the fetus in Gertrude's womb, whether than unborn child is to be named Hamlet who knows? In any event there is no 20-something Hamlet older brother - just Gertrude plotting with "Claude" to kill her estranged husband, John Cairncross, and take over the family estate, an old house in near ruins but in a posh, changing neighborhood and worth millions. McEwan isn't the first try to update the Hamlet story - Updike did so in one of his later (and less successful) novels, like McEwan he focused on Gertrude - and I have no idea where McE will go with this thread or how he will unspool the story: no Hamlet, no kingdom at stake, to Polonius, no Ophelia, no Laertes, no Fortinbras, and so forth, just a rather tawdry domestic drama about a planned poisoning with the odd twist that the story is narrated by an unborn child - beyond improbability, it's just fantasy, a schtik, and we'll have to see what this device adds to the narrative. It's kind of amusing, in the early going, if you can suspend your disbelief, but it makes the whole endeavor campy, a stunt. What if McE had told an updated Hamlet legend with a conventional narrator - either omniscient or Gertrude (or Claudius) in the 1st person? I keep thinking of Jane Smiley's retelling of King Lear in A thousand Acres, throughout which, as the tragedy unspooled, I kept thinking: Haven't any of you read or seen King Lear? Don't you see where this is heading? Likewise with Nutshell/Hamlet.