Monday, October 17, 2016
Some impressive elements in Nutshell but overall a missed opportunity
Book group last night gave a tepid endorsement to Ian McEwan's Nutshell, universally impressed with some of his (his narrator's) riffs on culture and perception but concurring that overall McEwan never quite got control of his material in this novel: It was a vehicle for his voice and to display peacock-like his formidable knowledge and intelligence, with the gag that all this is coming from the mind and consciousness of child in utero. But really remove the narrator trick and what do you make of the plot? Not much. It's filled w/ holes and improbabilities. The central characters blithely proceed on the course toward a dastly murder, and for no good reason. The linkage to the Hamlet narrative is a framework, at least at first, but ultimately makes little sense as it completely lacks the drama of the original: there's no ambiguity as to whether the perps played out their murder plot. And there's no role whatsoever for the main character - Hamlet (assuming that the fetus could not be the unborn Hamlet, as the timing does not match up at all). Mk made the observation that no woman in her right mind would entrust Claud to deliver her baby. MR made the observation that the Trudy character does not think or behave like a woman in late stages of pregnancy. JoRi had the observation that the novel would be far better designed if at the moment of birth the fetus reverted to the newborn/infantile state - which would raise the possibility that all the unborn bear the mothers' perception of the world - a perception totally vanished at birth. But McEwan missed that opportunity as well. I talked a little about how McEwan started with the concept of limited perception - the narrator, for example, is puzzled by the concept of color, which he has never seen - but McEwan dropped that concept altogether. I also talking about the difference between Hamlet - a kingdom at stake, the central character is unsure as to whether his father was murdered, his anxiety and anguish, his springing the trap to reveal the plot, and much more - compared with this Hamlet whose only action is to speed the birth and why? So that he can be born in prison rather than in freedom? Makes no sense. McEwan is super-smart and can turn narrative dross into gold, at times, but he lost his footing on this one.