“Nutshell” by Ian McEwan (2016)

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“So here I am, upside down in a woman.”

I’m repeatedly on record on this blog saying that I’m not a particular fan of child narrators. However, when the narrator sounds enough like the age they’re supposed to be, then I have less to complain about. However, Ian McEwan has taken the premise to its logical extreme here and, oddly enough, it works. In Nutshell, the narrator is perhaps a unique voice in the literary canon: he hasn’t yet been born.

Our protagonist is still a few weeks off his birth day, but he’s keeping himself entertained by listening to and learning from the world around him. He’s discovered that his mother is called Trudy. He’s also discovered that John (her husband and his father) doesn’t live with them anymore. Trudy does, however, spend an awful lot of time with Claude, John’s brother. It also soon becomes painfully clear that Trudy and Claude are plotting something, unaware of the witness that listens to every word and is the innocent implicated party in the whole plot.

You could take the premise of this novel in one of two ways – either to say that the whole thing’s ridiculous, or to just go with it and enjoy the wry humour of the unborn child who has a mastery of philosophy and prose that I can only dream of. It’s explained that Trudy listens to a lot of podcasts and news stories, all of which the baby also hears, and so he has become vastly informed about the state of the world, knowing not only that he lives in London, but also having a basic understanding of many of the socioeconomic factors governing twenty-first century Britain. His style is engaging and somewhat comical, yet also moving and profound and packed with debate on right and wrong, crime and punishment, gender, parenthood and modernity.

The whole thing is somewhat Shakespearean in nature, with the hero’s mother and uncle plotting against the father. I’m not clear enough on my Hamlet to know quite whether it’s a direct lift or not, but there feel like there are definitely enough similarities to assume that it’s a retelling. McEwan sparkles as usual, although I’ve not read very much of his catalogue. The premise is wonderfully unique and I think helps give it a bit more nuance, excitement and fun. One of the funniest ongoing jokes is that Trudy hasn’t quite given up drinking while she’s pregnant, and as such, the foetus is something of a wine snob before it’s even born, being able to detect the grape being imbibed even without hearing it said. Part of the novel style of the book comes from the fact that sight, smell and taste are all but impossible to use as senses, meaning the book relies heavily on sound and, interestingly, touch.

It’s a fascinating experiment and it’s really paid off. There’s a satisfying ending that still somehow leaves you wanting to know more, and the writing simply sparkles. Ingenious.

Hi everyone! Great news – my second novel, The Third Wheel, achieved its funding and will now be published in the near future! Thank you so much to everyone who supported. If you still want to support, or want to learn out more, click here!


“For One More Day” by Mitch Albom (2006)

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Another day, another destiny...

Another day, another destiny…

“Let me guess. You want to know why I tried to kill myself.”

So I threw down The Haunted Book and, once I’d showered enough to get the spook off of me and focused for a while on my NaNoWriMo ideas, I picked up another book. Ah, something nice about family and love and … oh god, it’s another ghost story.

But this one isn’t scary. This is the story of Charles “Chick” Benetto, a man who feels he has nothing left to live for. Alcohol and regret has stolen away his wife, his daughter and his job. He is broken and believes that there is only one option left open to him – he has to kill himself.

He decides to take one last drive before he does it, heading out to Pepperville Beach where he grew up, planning to visit his childhood home. When he arrives, his mother is there waiting for him. There’s just one problem with that – she died eight years ago.

Chick is then granted something that I daresay many of us have wished for with someone no longer with us – one more day together. His mother cooks up him some breakfast and then she takes him out with her on her errands and he begins to learn more about the secrets his family had and how he lost everything he once had.

This is my third Mitch Albom book, having previously read The Five People You Meet In Heaven and The Timekeeper. I love his brain and the way he constructs his worlds. They’re all wonderfully real and full of hope and joy, despite so often being about death and its omnipresent shadow over us. The idea of spending a final day with someone who you lost is one that undoubtedly appeals to so many people. This book goes into realistic detail of the relationship between a mother and her son, one of the most important relationships in any life. Chick loves his mother, then becomes embarrassed of her, and they begin to drift, all the while she tries to keep them together as best she knows how.

It is the kind of book that makes you want to go and hug your own parents because you never know when your final day with them will be (it’s tragic, but it’s true). There are some truly heartbreaking moments in this book, such as Chick’s reveal of his last interaction with his mother before her death, and his own downward spiral as he becomes unable to live with himself. The struggle that Posey (his mother) goes through as well is also terribly sad and even though she’s not my mother (and, of course, doesn’t actually exist), I just want to give her a hug too as she is a deeply loving and passionate person who will do anything for her children.

Beautiful and compelling, but keep a tissue handy.