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An Unborn Baby Overhears Plans for a Murder in Ian McEwan’s Latest Novel

‘Ian McEwan’s compact, captivating new novel, “Nutshell,” is also about murderous spirals and lost messages between fathers and unborn sons, although it’s the father’s fate that hangs in the balance here. I promise not to give away the formidable genius of the plot — but the premise, loosely, is this: Trudy, jittery and fragile, lives in a London townhouse as dilapidated as it is valuable, where she spends hot afternoons coldly plotting the murder of her husband, John. She is heavily pregnant with John’s son. They have separated, their love spent; he inspires nothing more in her than a “retinal crust of boredom.” He has moved to Shoreditch (or “sewer-ditch,” as it used to be known), where he scrapes out a living as a poet and publisher. John may or may not be in love with an aspiring poet named Elodie, who writes about owls, and whose name rhymes with “threnody” — a lamentation to the dead.

The accomplice to this murder — “clever and dark and calculating” but also “dull to the point of brilliance, vapid beyond invention . . . a man who whistles continually, not songs but TV jingles, ringtones . . . whose repeated remarks are a witless, thrustless dribble” — is Claude, a real estate developer. Claude — Hamlet’s Claudius — needs no literary disguise: He is John’s brother, a prosperous brute of a man with whom Trudy (Gertrude) is having an affair.

And the narrator of this saga? Listen carefully now: He is Trudy’s son, still in her womb, who hears his mother and uncle plan and connive over lukewarm coffee in their Hamilton Terrace kitchen, and who must countenance the life-threatening ignominy of his uncle’s lovemaking every night….’

Source: The New York Times Book Review