Nutshell | Penguin Random House Canada


A Novel

Publisher: Vintage Canada

From literary superstar Ian McEwan Ian McEwan comes Nutshell, a gloriously entertaining, wonderfully imagined novel—a mesmerizing thriller to delight all readers.

"Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." 
--William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John, who trusts and adores her. She's living in the marital home--a dilapidated, and priceless London townhouse--but John's not there. In his stead is the profoundly banal Claude--and together they're hatching a murderous plan. But there is an unexpected witness to their plot, who cares deeply about the outcome: the inquisitive nine-month-old inhabitant of Trudy's womb.

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is riveting--an unforgettably original, wickedly entertaining, novel of murder and deceipt from one of the world's master storytellers.


So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults,...
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Until the exciting day when McEwan . . . is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, his numerous and ardent fans enjoy the regular appearance of his highly intelligent and compellingly provocative novels. McEwan can be counted on to make the implausible plausible and the outrageous reasonable, and his talent in that regard is put to its consummate test in [Nutshell]. Startling at first but quickly acceptable and even embraced, this mesmerizing tale is narrated by an unborn, male fetus. . . . [H]e takes matters into his tiny little hands, which brings this ingenious tour de force to its stunning conclusion. As soon as words gets out, any new novel by this bestselling, Booker Prize–winning novelist causes a reader frenzy.” —Booklist (starred review)

Everyone . . . should read Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. . . . McEwan’s command of language is just gobsmacking, even in his sixties; the wonder is that he is hilarious as well. He makes aging look brilliant.” —Ian Brown, author of Sixty, The Globe and Mail

“A peculiar and philosophical novel that features what is perhaps the most ingenious literary conceit of the year.” The Globe and Mail

“McEwan’s latest novel is short, smart, and narrated by an unborn baby. . . . Echoes of Hamlet resound in the plans for fratricide, a ghost, and the baby’s contemplation of shuffling off his mortal coil. The murder plot structures the novel as a crime caper, McEwan-style—that is, laced with linguistic legerdemain, cultural references, and insights into human ingenuity and pettiness. Packed with humor and tinged with suspense, this gem resembles a sonnet the narrator recalls hearing his father recite: brief, dense, bitter, suggestive of unrequited and unmanageable longing, surprising, and surprisingly affecting.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Ian McEwan’s delicious new novel, with its foetal narrator, is comedy gold. . . . In Nutshell, McEwan is a pentathlete at the top of his game, doing several very different things equally well. Current literary culture rarely awards gold medals for comedy, but this is one performance—agile, muscular, swift—you should not miss.” —The Times

“[T]he familiar story retains a strong forward momentum. . . . [An] elegiac, masterpiece, a calling together of everything McEwan has learned and knows about his art.” —The Guardian

[A] smart, funny and utterly captivating novel. . . . Like his 1998 novel, Amsterdam, Nutshell is a small tour de force that showcases all of Mr. McEwan’s narrative gifts of precision, authority and control, plus a new, Tom Stoppard-like delight in the sly gymnastics that words can be perform. The restrictions created by the narrator’s situation—stuck inside a maternal nutshell—seem to have stimulated a surge of inventiveness on Mr. McEwan’s part . . . [His]little homunculus is, by turns, earnest, mocking, sarcastic, searching and irreverent . . . It’s preposterous . . . that a fetus should be thinking such earthshaking thoughts, but Mr. McEwan writes here with such assurance and élan that the reader never for a moment questions his sleight of hand.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Nutshell turns out to be a sparkling and gripping tale thanks to a batty conceit that somehow works extremely well. This is McEwan at play, giving us a short, sharp, sophisticated entertainment.” —Daily Express (four stars)

“At once playful and deadly serious, delightful and frustrating, it is one of McEwan’s hardest to categorise works, and all the more interesting for it. Giving it the title Nutshell doesn’t mean it can easily be placed in one.” —The Times

“In Nutshell, we see a bookish mind at play. And it turns out that a fetal Hamlet—bound, watching the inevitable event grow nearer, an extravagant and erring sprit confined in doubts and impotence—is actually just about right. . . . Nutshell is a joy: unexpected, self-aware and pleasantly dense with plays on Shakespeare. It isn’t Hamlet, and doesn’t particularly illuminate Hamlet, but dances beautifully with it. . . . For a good adaptation, play is the thing.” —NPR

[A] compact, captivating new novel. . . . [F]ormidable genius. . . . Is there another writer alive who can pull off a narrative line of this sort? . . . The writing is lean and muscular, often relentlessly gorgeous. . . . The literary acrobatics required to bring such a narrator-in-the-womb to life would be reason enough to admire this novel. But McEwan, aside from being one of the most accomplished craftsmen of plot and prose, also happens to be a deeply provocative writer about science. His musings are often oblique and tangential—yet he manages to penetrate the spirals of some of the most engaging quandaries in contemporary science. . . . Cognizant readers might recognize in Nutshell the influences of Richard Dawkins (about whose work McEwan has written thoughtfully) or Daniel Dennett—and a good dose of Agatha Christie—but it hardly matters: The pleasures of this tautly plotted book require no required reading.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The latest novel from Ian McEwan is like nothing we’ve read before. Nutshell is a gripping domestic drama told from a very unusual perspective: a baby in the womb. Sounds strange, but it works.” —Good Housekeeping
“Ian McEwan had form when it comes to creating arresting first-person narrators, but he excels himself with his latest novel, Nutshell. . . . [T]he conceit’s an ingenious one, and McEwan carries it off with aplomb—it really shouldn’t work, but it does. . . . [B]rims with life. In a nutshell, shall we say, it’s a corker.” —Tatler
Nutshell is a classic story of murder and revenge, told in an astonishing act of literary ventriloquism unlike any in recent literature. A bravura performance, it is the finest recent work from a true master.” —The Guardian

It takes a lion’s nerve to rewrite Hamlet from the viewpoint of a fetus, a stunt conceived and sweetly achieved by Ian McEwan in his latest novel, Nutshell. McEwan’s 197-page thimble brims with literary allusions, social commentary and murderous intrigue. . . . McEwan[’s] prose is always exquisite. . . . His Nutshell is a stunt, but a gorgeous one, studded with Joycean reflections on fathers, the wisdom of pop songs and reviews of placenta-filtered fine wine.” —The Washington Times

“[D]evilishly clever and darkly humorous. . . . In Nutshell, McEwan cleverly pulls off what might be little more than a gimmick in the hands of a lesser novelist. That he persuades us to suspend our disbelief so readily here is a testament to his consummate skill.” —BookPage

A sparkling, witty re-imagining of Hamlet starring an unborn baby. . . . As an example of point of view, you can look no farther than these gorgeous pages, which not only prove that brevity is the soul of wit but also offer the reader a voice both distinctive and engaging. . . . Can he [the unborn narrator] warn his father? If too late, can he avenge him? And how? The answers to these questions will keep the reader speeding through every page, each one rife with wordplay, social commentary, hilarity, and suspense. . . . Hats off to Ian McEwan. I’ve worn my Ticonderoga to a nub drawing a universe of stars in the margins of this charming book.” —The Boston Globe