A mansplaining fetus

A lot of people have been talking about Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. I’ve read that it’s original, that McEwan is subverting genres, and that it’s clever and incredibly entertaining.

I guess?

I’ll be up front – I struggled to get through Atonement, so I might not be McEwan’s target audience.

But I do appreciate whodunits and I’m not sure that I appreciated this book.

Trudy is living in her husband, John’s, London townhouse. But she’s living there with John’s brother, Claude who she is having an affair with. (First of all, parents who call their first son John, are not going to follow that up with Claude. It’s just not going to happen.) The house is worth a lot of money and Claude and Trudy could both use some money. But the house belongs to John, who is still very much in love with Trudy and who hopes that they can still reconcile.

Especially for the sake of their unborn child. You may have heard that this book is narrated by the resident of Trudy’s womb, a male child who is privy to all of Trudy and Claude’s secrets and plans.

The elements of a good crime story were there – kind of reminiscent of Ian Rankin’s Doors Open where you get a front row seat to the planning of the crime, rather than the aftermath. But at some point, the precocious narrator started to wear on me – he started to veer into mansplaining territory.

As he meditates on right and wrong, attachments to his parents, the role of a son in saving the father, he comes across as so pretentious. I get enough of that in real life, I don’t need to spend time with those characters in my reading.

For my mother, so much effortful negation. How wearying, on top of all else (a hangover, a murder, enervating sex, advanced pregnancy) for my mother to be obliged to exert her will and extend fulsome hatred to a guest.

That’s another thing – Trudy gets drunk all the time. She’s hungover basically the entire time and there’s a lot of sex which I mostly just found icky.

I tried hard to find something about this book that resonated with me but I think it was just not for me. I’m sure if you took a quick peek online you would find that I’m one of the few.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an unfinished version of the book.

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18 thoughts on “A mansplaining fetus

  1. Interesting to hear your thoughts. I have to say I avoided this book because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the premise (and like you I’m not always McEwan’s biggest fan anyway) – I’m now very glad I did!

  2. I was wondering about this novel, and a little hesitant, because sometimes I just cannot get into his writing, while other times I love it. This one sounds like I should skip it. I did love Sweet Tooth and Saturday. Atonement I liked pretty well, though not as much. He does tend to get really pretentious at times.

    • This one was overwhelmed by pretension. It’s only fun when the reader feels like they are in on the joke, you know? I’ve only read Atonement – I keep meaning to read Amsterdam and The Children Act but maybe I should make peace with the fact that he’s just not an author for me?

      • Sweet Tooth is a great love story. Saturday is really intense, and there is a poem that is very meaningful to me personally nestled in the plot – it’s like a surprise. So for some reason those two novels I like much better than his others. Anyway, so many good authors to choose from so I don’t tend to keep reading an author either if I’ve read more than one and they just don’t appeal.

  3. Ian McEwan’s books have been hot and cold for me, so it’s nice to have someone else try them out for me first!
    Entirely unrelated: I can’t help but notice the picture of a bag of All Sorts on your sidebar – yum!!

    • Skip this one. I think it will drive you bananas.
      All Sorts! Is that what they are called in English?? One of those things I only know in Dutch. For whatever reason, the grocery store in my ‘hood is importing Dutch treats directly from Dutch supermarkets! It’s working for me!

      • Yum! Yes, they’re called All Sorts, and because of my mother’s love of black licorice of any kind, I grew up with them. She used to bring them on walks or hikes when we were little to entice is along, like bribes. 🙂

        And now I have to tell you that my sister-in-law just got married last night to a Dutch man, and his whole clan from Ontario came to the wedding. There were even some bowls of black licorice, which I thought was kind of strange (but good!) until right now.

  4. I love the title of this post! I have this book, but it’s due in a week and I read the first few pages to see if it’s worth my time. I find the idea of the fetus narrator interesting, but not sure if that’s enough incentive to read the book. I liked McEwan’s last book, but again not enough to reason to try racing through this one. It sounds like really didn’t enjoy spending time with these characters.

    • It was definitely an interesting idea for a narrator but it really missed the mark for me. It felt mildly misogynistic – the one female character in the book does not come out looking good at all.
      I did not enjoy spending time with these characters!

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