Sunday, 30 October 2016
NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan
No-one plants unease as well as Ian McEwan. I had thought, before 'unease', to write, unthinkingly, 'disease'; now it occurs to me that maybe disease is an even better word. His prose, which I would suggest is now among the best the English language has, digs in and under, and fills the imagination with all kinds of mental dyspepsia. It is quite brilliant; but of course one knows that it will all end badly. With McEwan it always does. 'Nutshell' is actually a novella, a long short story, longer than some novels. The claustrophobia, the intense detailing, are reminders of those earliest, shocking tales in 'First Love, Last Rites', the only collection of short stories, in my literary lifetime, that have had the impact of an important novel. I've a feeling that, like an English football player's overhead goal, this book would be praised to the treetops were it by a Czech or Vietnamese or Egyptian writer. It is a state-of-the-world tract encased in the nutshell of an English - very English - short story. A book about shuffling on the mortal coil, it is worth the read for the prose alone, but it may leave you sadder and not necessarily all that wiser.