Book Club: Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Every now and then you find a book that’s as delicious as a box of fine chocolate truffles. You don’t want to gobble it up all at once. You want to savour it, rolling the words and phrases around in your mouth, pausing between pages to allow yourself time to close your eyes and fully experience each element of the flavour.

That’s how I felt reading Nutshell, the latest release by well-loved author Ian McEwan.

Like the name, it is such a quick read and as I was eagerly absorbing the pages to see how the plot (or complot) would play out, I simultaneously paced myself to enjoy his carefully woven, poetic language and dense social commentary.

On the surface this is a story about two people who are planning a murder. The narrator, however, makes things very interesting.

The story is told by an unborn baby in his final trimester, experiencing the world from his mom Trudy’s belly. He hears the news from London broadcast via her body, learns about human culture, history and modern politics from the podcasts and commentaries she listens to, falls in love with the poetry he hears his father read, and develops a palette for cuisine (and wine) from what his mother eats and drinks.

He also learns about a murderous plan concocted by his mother and her lover, Claude, to murder his father, John, thereby acquiring the mansion he inherited from his family. With every page he learns more about their sinister plans, viewing himself as equally culpable in this crime, physically caught in the middle of their distorted love affair, unable to stand in their way.

This book is much more than a mere crime thriller, however. Woven throughout McEwan uses this very-wise-beyond-his-years narrator to comment on the world he is about to enter – the same one we see on the news each day where racial strife is brewing and romanticism about the past once again blossoms. But like the Georgian house the characters inhabit, McEwan seems to suggest that these ancient structures and historical dreams are really decaying relics that are no longer safe to inhabit.

It is the type of book you want to read over and over to delve deeper into the densely woven text and pull out the deeper significance of each page. Wonderful.

R385, penguinrandomhouse.co.za

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