[The fetus] sounds rather like Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s Lolita; the same grand, elegiac tone; the same infinite knowledge of history and English poetry, the same covetous, obsessively physical eye ... McEwan makes the story over into a brutally effective howdunnit, magnificently strong on the details of murder ... a consciously late, deliberately elegiac, masterpiece, a calling together of everything McEwan has learned and knows about his art.
...a smart, funny and utterly captivating novel ... 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 ... It’s preposterous, of course, 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.
...wit and self-awareness will go far in making improbable adaptations work. 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 fails when McEwan turns earnest. I initially took the fetus's long monologues on world events as part of the larger joke, but it's clear after a while that some of them are sincere ... Nonetheless, Nutshell is a joy: unexpected, self-aware, and pleasantly dense with plays on Shakespeare.
Ian McEwan’s preposterously weird little novel, is more brilliant than it has any right to be ... surprisingly suspenseful, dazzlingly clever and gravely profound ... Nutshell offers the unmatched pleasure of McEwan’s prose, inflected with witty echoes of Shakespeare.
...[a] compact, captivating new novel ... The writing is lean and muscular, often relentlessly gorgeous ... 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.
[McEwan is] sufficiently a master of suspense to just about keep a reader wondering how he’s going to resolve the new book’s murder plot without doing too much violence to his source material. All the same, the high-wire act doesn’t really come off ... Nutshell relies instead on pure voice and quickly collapses into a mishmash of pentameter-ridden sentences and half-baked wordplay. An uncharitable reading would see its eccentric set-up as a way of refreshing some essentially banal observations. But perhaps it’s more a case of a bored master-carpenter trying his hand at embroidery.
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 ... each [page is] rife with wordplay, social commentary, hilarity, and suspense ... hats off to Ian McEwan.
With Nutshell McEwan has accomplished a small miracle: a well-wound thriller inside something bigger, a variegated meditation on folly, on the insistent untenability of this world to which we have given birth even as it gives birth to us, on the ability of art to encapsulate its mysteries.
You can provide your own 'to be or not to be' crack, but rest assured that Mr. McEwan is happy to do it for you. Nutshell is an arch, strenuous, one-joke performance, the reading equivalent of a grueling night at an amateur improv. Mr. McEwan no doubt enjoyed himself. As for his readers? As Hamlet complained, 'though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve.'”
These [Hamlet] references are enormous fun to recognize. A little less fun are the philosophical digressions the fetus embarks on, which can feel a little discombobulating ... Nutshell may be a short book, but it is not hard to crack. And what lies within—the suspense of a murder plot, the matching game that’s played when a classic story is retold, and the unique perspective of an unborn narrator—is quite pleasurable to both pick through and savor.
Ian McEwan has done it again. While not as substantial as his very best, Nutshell offers a delightful twist on Hamlet ... Thanks to its unusual narrator, Nutshell is fantastically entertaining and frequently hilarious ... His prose trills with riffs on the relationship between sex and crime, guilt, grief, remorse and art, repeatedly reaching Bard-inspired heights of eloquence.
The emphasis in Nutshell is all on the stunt narrator. The murder story is thin to the point of parody — John is fed smoothie laced with sweet-tasting antifreeze, with props planted to make it look like a suicide — and the authorities unravel it in a matter of hours. The fetal narrator is the sign of a writer overcompensating for his own perceived conventionality ... In Nutshell McEwan hasn’t failed by risking formal originality but by stuffing his book with his own shopworn chauvinisms and not a few pervy bits ... McEwan’s prose is always smooth — you can almost see the sentences arcing like sine waves — yet there’s also something drab about it.
While Trudy and Claude seem like a dinner-party real-estate joke spun out of control, McEwan’s Hamlet is more ridiculous still ... it is when baby Hamlet turns his eye away from the ruination of language and culture that he becomes even more transparent a vehicle for McEwan’s discontents ... Baby Hamlet comes to mime some of McEwan’s most simplistic views of familial love and duty.
Reworkings of Shakespeare have been pouring into bookshops this year. But none is as creepy or as brilliant as Ian McEwan’s latest ... The book’s finest exploration is of poetry. The author offers up everything he knows about its intensity, and why he loves it so. It is clear Mr McEwan has had enormous fun writing Nutshell; now it is the reader’s turn to be entertained too. Dark as it is, this novel is a thing of joy.
Sometimes the writing strains and groans with the pressure of its own self-conscious preciosity ... Any realism in this novel is undermined by the simple fact that a fetus can’t know what this fetus knows...It is not improbable, like some plot points of other McEwan novels; it is impossible ... it looks like McEwan, this once at least, has decided to shuffle off the mortal coil of realism in favor of an impossible point of view. I applaud his new purpose because the payoffs are worth it. For all its un-believability, Nutshell’s narrator offers us interesting moments, and gives McEwan the chance to show off some fresh writing ... Realist or not, though, McEwan’s abilities as a fiction writer are undeniable.
The goofy riffing strongly suggests that McEwan is having the time of his authorial life. It’s great fun for us too. Fun enough that the sly injection, at novel’s end, of certified McEwanesque suspense takes us thrillingly unawares.
I found it distasteful, intellectually insulting, and its prose painfully cringe worthy. The plot is ludicrous, the characters are intensely unlikable, and while I find the idea of writing from an unborn, 30-week-old-baby’s perspective to be an interesting exercise, that’s all it should be, an exercise. It should be something you have tucked away in a notebook never to be seen by anyone else’s eyes but your own.
McEwan has always been stunningly good at exploring how intimacy is a precondition for betrayal, and that’s on display here, though not as finely wrought as in earlier work such as Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach. Also on display is McEwan’s undeniable verbal wit ... Unfortunately (for the reader and the book, if not for McEwan), the author himself (or at least his thoughts) is on display, and it doesn’t do the story any favors ... Perhaps more inexcusable are the passages of political griping ... I for the most part believed the unborn narrator. I liked his perspective. I wanted to see how it turned out.