Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Notes – Nutshell In A Nutshell, Womb With A View

Ian McEwan
Perhaps I am too literal to be literary in my own writing, but I certainly enjoy reading the elegant prose of Ian McEwan. I’ve long been a fan his work, much of it bound in slender volumes —unusual occurrences compared to most of today’s tomescent best sellers and critical successes. And as a reader and writer, the short novel is my format of choice these days.

This relatively short crime novel, Nutshell operates from a conceit — that a fetus can somehow divine the reality that exists outside the increasingly small space in the womb, and that said fetus is also able to communicate those impressions to the reader with the logic of a sophisticated, mature and literary mind. What his unborn narrator “senses” leads the reader to a view of the kill.

As a fiction writer, one may do whatever one chooses.  Put the Statue of Liberty in Lake Michigan if you like.  However you must convince the reader it’s there. In this case, I wasn’t convinced right away. I read somewhere that most people have little or no memory of what happened in their lives before the age of five. Perhaps that is because without language to describe our feelings and organize our thoughts, if we have them, we are at a loss to recall. To reconstruct is to have once had a construction. For me, I have some infant memories of a Koi pond, a swing set near a creek and my neighbor watering his lawn.  That’s about it before five.  My brother, on the other hand, has birth memories and moments shortly thereafter.  How many, though, can reminisce about their days in the womb as it inevitably closes in around them?

If you are willing to suspend your disbelief — and McEwan’s words will seduce you, I swear — the story will flow effortlessly and humorously.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

“Compact, captivating ... The writing is lean and muscular, often relentlessly gorgeous ... McEwan is one of the most accomplished craftsmen of plot and prose,” says Siddhartha Mukherjee in The New York Times Book Review

For me, there was, from time to time, moments of a Liberace flourish at the end of a sentence or paragraph; but who, with his talent, wouldn’t want to mug occasionally? The other odd, and I think extremely clever contrivance (not a bad word in mystery-making), is that the fetal narrator somehow makes us part of the conspiracy to murder his/her poet father, a murder about which the infant seems to take an interested, but nonpartisan position. It is an all-knowing narrator without the baggage of good and evil. Can the unborn possess such inclinations as judgment if it has such extraordinary proficiency in language? True objectivity?  Not really. Selfishness exudes from the temporary tenant as expected from a being that only knows itself.  

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