Nutshell by Ian McEwan
A Novel

77%

31 Critic Reviews

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

Synopsis

New from the bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home—a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse—but John's not there. Instead, she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy's womb.

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Ian McEwan

See more books from this Author
Ian McEwan is the bestselling author of more than ten books, including the novels The Comfort of Strangers and Black Dogs, both shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize, and The Child in Time, winner of the Whitbread Award, as well as the story collections First Love, Last Rites, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, and In Between the Sheets. He has also written screenplays, plays, television scripts, a children's book, and the libretto for an oratorio. He lives in London.
 
Published September 13, 2016 by Nan A. Talese. 208 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Oct 02 2016
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Nutshell
All: 31 | Positive: 25 | Negative: 6

Kirkus

Below average
on Jul 04 2016

Clever, likable, and yet unsatisfying, this tale too often bears out the narrator’s early claim: “I take in everything, even the trivia—of which there is much.”

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Aug 02 2016

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.

Read Full Review of Nutshell: A Novel | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Siddhartha mukherjee on Sep 11 2016

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.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Sep 06 2016

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.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Adriana Delgado on Sep 11 2016

Ian McEwan’s Nutshell is glorious and tragic, a heinous crime told through the eyes of an unborn witness who as it turns out, is the only one with the power to put things right.

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Annalisa Quinn on Sep 14 2016

Passages like these belong in some crabby magazine article bemoaning the fads of the young, those coddled iPad users with their lattes and their gender identities...Nonetheless, Nutshell is a joy: unexpected, self-aware, and pleasantly dense with plays on Shakespeare.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes on Sep 16 2016

Some readers may grumble that “Nutshell” lacks the scope, tension and emotional depth of McEwan’s career-high masterpiece “Atonement” (2001). It would be more worthwhile, however, to acknowledge it as a different kind of McEwan novel, and applaud it for its beauty, precision and inventiveness.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Siddhartha mukherjee on Sep 09 2016

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.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by DAVID TREUER on Sep 16 2016

In the hands and mind of anyone else, the idea might have been rotten. Maybe it is. But the book isn’t. What games masters like McEwan get to play: They get to shove their stories into the monster’s mouth and draw them out again unharmed.

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AV Club

Good
Reviewed by Randon Billings Noble on Sep 12 2016

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.

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The Telegraph

Above average
Reviewed by Orlando Bird on Sep 23 2016

As a kind of comic balancing act, it might have worked, but there are times when McEwan’s incursions are too heavy-handed – often, when he goes for an outright joke.

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Brad Hooper on Oct 21 2016

For all intents and purposes, he is trapped. Nevertheless, he takes matters into his tiny little hands, which brings this ingenious tour de force to its stunning conclusion.

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The Maine Edge

Excellent
Reviewed by Allen Adams on Sep 14 2016

Few writers would have the temerity to roll the dice on such a high-concept premise. Fewer still would have the talent to pull it off. Yet “Nutshell” comes together brilliantly, delivering again and again on the offbeat promise of the concept while still maintaining McEwan’s usual exceptional narrative sense.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by Heller McAlpin on Sep 22 2016

A master of the miniature powerhouse, McEwan pulls all this off in under 200 compact pages that span two momentous days.

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20Something Reads

Good
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on Sep 15 2016

The stakes rise and biology has the trump card, but it would be churlish to reveal more of the plot. In under 200 pages, McEwan has crafted a taut, literary thriller that can only add to his deservedly lofty reputation.

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USA Today

Above average
Reviewed by Kevin Nance on Sep 17 2016

The unborn narrator is a clever gimmick, to be sure, but it’s also something of a non-starter in terms of delivering a satisfying narrative. With that striking first sentence, McEwan has already written himself into a corner; a protagonist who can’t act must instead stall and comment, pontificate and filibuster.

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Denver Post

Good
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Sep 22 2016

It doesn’t seem possible that this oddly ridiculous narrator caught in a tawdry murder scheme could deliver such a moving, hilarious testimony, filled with equal measures of dread and hope, but babies and sweet princes can surprise you. Welcome to the world, “Nutshell.”

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The National

Good
Reviewed by LUCY SCHOLES on Sep 08 2016

Perhaps you’ve got to read it to believe it? That’s certainly what I urge. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Scotsman.com

Good
Reviewed by Stuart Kelly on Sep 14 2016

This may mark a shift in McEwan’s career. After a decade of eloquent but irritating novels, he seems to have found a way to unite commentary and the shuddersome once again.

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by Catherine Holmes on Nov 01 2016

If Shakespeare’s Hamlet is too late, McEwan’s is too early. The unwanted baby pins his hopes on time: “I want to become.” McEwan does a beautiful, sneaky thing: Someone who has never had a chance to live makes the strongest case for the golden chance of life.

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Irish Times

Above average
Reviewed by JOHN BOYNE on Sep 02 2016

So a strange sort of book in the end, an interesting experiment that mostly works, not quite comparable with his masterpieces but not as disappointing as his mis-steps.

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London Review of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Adam Mars-Jones on Oct 06 2016

In the body of the book, the attempt to align its language with the force field of Shakespeare’s has the effect not of supercharging but demagnetisation...

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The New Zealand Herald

Good
Reviewed by David Hill on Sep 04 2016

So his voice transgresses the Laws of Nature and possibility? So what? In McEwan's virtuoso hands, it anticipates your objections ("I've got no choice, my ear is pressed against the bloody walls"), encourages suspension of disbelief and allows the plot to pace along. It's a triumph.

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The Australian

Good
Reviewed by James Bradley on Sep 03 2016

In the end it is this very playfulness that makes Nutshell the wonderfully calibrated entertainment it is. For despite its structural complexity...in the end its real concerns are intimate, even comic, its improbable narrator as flawed and limited as the rest of us.

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Herald Scotland

Good
Reviewed by Rosemary Goring on Sep 09 2016

...Nutshell is short. When space is tight, however, every word must earn its place. As a result, it is also richly rewarding.

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Salt Lake Tribune

Good
Reviewed by CARLA K. JOHNSON on Sep 19 2016

McEwan, whose prose is always exquisite, is best known for "Amsterdam," "Atonement" and "Saturday." 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.

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https://bookpage.com

Good
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg on Sep 13 2016

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.

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https://bookmunch.wordpress.com

Good
on Aug 31 2016

In a nutshell (because what after all is the Any Cop? section of our reviews), this is McEwan at his most witty and playful, his most mordant and muse-y, and a very entertaining confection it is too.

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https://litreactor.com

Below average
Reviewed by Keith Rawson on Sep 12 2016

...I found it distasteful, intellectually insulting, and its prose painfully cringe worthy. The plot is ludicrous, the characters are intensely unlikable...What it shouldn’t become is a two-hundred-page novel that people spend their hard earned money on.

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http://adelaidereview.com.au

Above average
Reviewed by DAVID SORNIG on Nov 09 2016

The fact that it is a foetus’ exaggerated, impossible subjectivity being imagined here, effectively giving voice to what is perhaps the most voiceless, the most disempowered human subject of all, could be read as McEwan’s extended metaphorical contribution to contemporary debates around identity politics.

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http://millstonenews.com

Above average
Reviewed by Edith Cody-Rice on Oct 15 2016

I didn’t fully buy in though and have my reservations about this book, but I have canvassed friends, voracious readers all, who absolutely loved it, so do recommend it. In my mind, Atonement is still McEwan’s greatest work.

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