Book Review - Nutshell

by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) ISBN 9781911214335 

As a big fan of Ian McEwan, well-known author of Atonement (film won Golden Globe), Amsterdam (Booker Prize), and The Children Act  to name a few, I was looking forward to his newest book. And yes, he did it. He managed to enthral me again. Nutshell is original and nothing is predictable. This short, wonderfully different book is skilfully crafted, with believable characters. 

A very convincing unborn child tells the Hamlet story of his mother Trudy and the brother of her husband John, her lover Claude. They are plotting the murder of John, Trudy’s husband and father of the foetus. The unborn son is trying to prevent this, but feels restricted (“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space –were it not that I have bad dreams.”) Trudy is of course a reference to Gertrude and Claude to Claudius. 

The neonatal narrator is intelligent and gets a lot of information from the radio podcasts his mother listens to and loves the Sancerre wine his mother drinks. 

Brilliant and funny. Thought provoking. Full of word play. Highly recommended. 

Pauline Vijverberg 


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Sweet Tooth

by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) ISBN 9780224097383 

Is a balance of power, even if it means mutual deceit, essential for peaceful relationships? We follow voracious reader, Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) from her student years in Cambridge into her first job at the Secret Service (MI5), for which her middle-aged lover recruits her.

It is the early ‘70s of the Oil Crisis, miners’ strikes, the emergence of the IRA and the Cold War. MI5 devises Operation Sweet Tooth in which novelists will be supported financially to contribute to a war of ideas against the Soviet Union. The selected novelists won’t know about MI5’s involvement or objectives.

Undercover, Serena enlists writer Tom Haley and starts an affair with him. This puts her in a precarious position of divided loyalties.
This is a book about books, even more about “invention”, as Serena grasps that that is what makes a story more than the sum of its parts. Invention also explains why the cultural cold war doesn’t work although inspired by successful operations in WWII. At that time “invention, imagination drove intelligence”, and Sweet Tooth “that precursor of decay, reversed the process and failed because intelligence tried to interfere with invention.”

I have not yet answered McEwan’s question for myself, but what an intelligent and entertaining way to pose it.

Josine Overdevest 

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