In A Nutshell…

NutshellMcEwanThis book was a total shitshow. Holy moly I’ve not read anything this bad in years. To be fair, I only have myself to blame, because if I’m perfectly honest, which is what this blog is for, I’m not a fan of McEwan’s. The biggest compliment I’ve ever heard him be given is that he’s “the master of chronology”. Given that the-order-things-are-put-together is not my main motivation for picking up a book and that I didn’t like much else about his work, I decided to quit at 5 books (all rated 1-2*). So why the hell did I pick up this book? A gimmicky retelling of Hamlet from the perspective of a foetus no less? Well quite simply because I had a free copy to hand and like a curious idiot, I decided to give it a go.

And oh man did curiosity kill the cat… Or more like chop it into little pieces and dissolve the evidence in acid. I cannot even give this book credit for chronology, because for the most part it’s never-ending ramblings. There are quite literally pages upon pages of moralising- I could fill a book… but then that’s exactly what McEwan did here. Cue lots of *groaning* aloud- cos you guys know how much I love that…

Just take a look at this: “Now that the Russian state was the political arm of organised crimes, another war in Europe was no longer inconceivable”- is this supposed to be profound? It’s like he’s always trying to give things gravitas: “A creature of the post English-as-well-as-Scottish-and-French-Enlightenment”- really??? Saying “Enlightenment” would have been too easy I suppose? Oh and the migrant crisis is used as a platform to discuss the fear of rejection and general characterisation (*spoiler alert* all of the beliefs held are equally retarded). And have a look at this- let me know at which point it pisses you off:

“Middle East, fast-breeder for a possible world war.  And foe-of-convenience, the United States, barely the hope of the world, guilty of torture, helpless before its sacred text conceived in an age of powdered wigs, a constitution as unchallengeable as the Koran.  Its nervous population obese, fearful, tormented by inarticulate anger, contemptuous of governance, murdering sleep with every new handgun…”

Of course that’s supposed to be a newsreel- of which he is partially making fun (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t just call all Americans fat). So don’t think I’m saying these are McEwan’s thoughts– they’re at this point about three levels removed, filtered through a (quite literally) undeveloped character, who makes them vague and contradictory. Yes, yes, I get that he is literally making the prenatal whining of an adolescent or youth– perhaps even poking fun at the current fashion of talking in circles. Yet this way of making “social commentary” falls flat- because this nauseating voice hardly reminds me of a baby and instead strikes the tone of a middle aged man (so the reader can be forgiven for thinking this is just McEwan’s voice).

And since we’re on the subject… I’m sorry but how the hell am I supposed to suspend my disbelief that it’s a foetus? What an absolute crock. Let’s ignore the fact that it sounds like someone in their late 50s for a second (if that’s even possible) and focus on some of the blatantly retarded elements of this idea… Like how the foetus somehow manages to know what its mother is thinking. Sorry but just for the record- foetuses are not mind readers!! I can’t believe I even have to write this.

Plus there are inconsistencies- we are told early on that the baby can’t see and has limited understanding:

“When I hear ‘blue’, which I’ve never seen, I imagine some kind of mental event that’s fairly close to ‘green’—which I’ve never seen. . . I am, or I was, despite what the geneticists are no saying, a blank slate. But a slippery, porous slate no schoolroom or cottage roof could find use for, a slate that writes upon itself as it grows by the day and becomes less blank.” 

But plenty of times they suddenly are able to visualise whole outfits:

“By nocturnal association I dress her in tight-fitting black leather jacket and jeans, let her be young, pale, pretty, her own woman.” 

Whilst of course having a highly developed level of consciousness- sorry but foetuses aren’t this advanced-especially not ones with alcoholic mothers. Oh have I not mentioned that yet? This book features a heavily pregnant woman “drinking for two”. Charming- but lifeless arseholes are what I’ve come to expect from McEwan at this point. That and the cliché of the hero being some kind of writer for good measure (he’s a poet here- so *ding ding ding*- we have a winner). But don’t worry- these characters are so colourless and one dimensional that you won’t care enough if they live or die.

What will illicit strong reactions, however, are the Oedipal sex scenes, where the interloper “Claude” (no points for guessing who he’s meant to be in a Hamlet retelling) has sex with the mother- while the “baby” bears witness… gross.

my-bed-tracey-emin-011Let’s face it though- there’s no beauty to this writing. It’s as crass and pointless as Tracy Emin’s unmade bed. In the first line, this is clear:

“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.”

Throughout the metaphors are clunky, literal and self-indulgent. With his little nods of “To be”, “She thinks I protest too much” and “No rest for the wicked”, the author bangs you over the head with “Shakespearean” imagery, meanwhile showing an inherent lack of understanding of the play. I will be blunt: there are fun, thoughtful, and bold reinterpretations of Shakespeare out there – this is none of those things. All the notes of domestic decay and the images of the interloper are overdone- especially since this is balanced in the play with the uncertainty of Claudius’ guilt. Plus, it goes on and on about Hamlet being a prisoner and how he literally “can’t say no” when his mother gets him drunk- but ultimately in the play Hamlet *does* have some agency. Worst of all is how it deals with existentialism in some of the worst lines I have ever read:

  • “I wish never to be born”– way to debase Shakespearian language, mate.
  • “I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be”– truly gag worthy
  • “not even born yesterday”– gah- this just reminds me how dumb this idea is- I could make a song out of how many times I’ve said dumb dumb dumb…

All the careful balance of dichotomies in the play is dumbed down for the sake of a gimmick, in a book that is as pointless as it is unexciting. And I wouldn’t say all that if this hadn’t piggybacked so needlessly on the back of one of the greatest plays of all time. Just go and read/watch Hamlet. It’s not comparable to this snivelling drivel.

This is right up there as one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And for only the second time in this blog’s history, I’m awarding this book a *banana peel*

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So today I have a fun question for you all- what is your *least favourite* book? What book do you think is an absolute stinker? Let me know in the comments!

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55 thoughts on “In A Nutshell…

  1. thesarahdoughty says:

    Yikes. You know, I’m not sure I’ve hated too many. At least not like this. There’s inconsistencies, a bad plot, but usually they were made up for in other areas. I didn’t like Fifty Shades books, but read the trilogy anyway… So I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. daleydowning says:

    Didn’t we just get through explaining how all kinds of books, even really bad ones, should be allowed to be published? 😉 I truly think you’ve found one of the few exceptions. This is an insult to the human race as a whole, to authors, Shakespeare, and certainly to babies.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fictionophile says:

    My least favorite book would have to be “The Ax” by Donald E. Westlake. Hated it! I’m in the minority though, as it has a fairly high rating on Goodreads.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Claire | Art and Soul says:

    I have a policy to give authors 3 “tries”. I’ve done this with McEwan and I have vowed never to read another book by him again. Your brilliant review has just made me feel rather pleased about this decision, and I’ll remember it any time I’m tempted to pick up another of his books!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. JJAzar says:

    You recounting your experience with this book exhausted me. I couldn’t imagine reading it. My goodness, what trash this sounds like. Hilarious analysis, though, so at least something good came out of it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Donna says:

    Between the idea of foetuses being mind readers and the witnessing of sex scenes, you grossed me out, hahahah. I did like Atonement, but it was a bit long and I was just coming back to reading so my standards were lower xD

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lashaan and Trang (Bookidote) says:

    Bloody hell. The premise sounds horrible. It doesn’t even make sense. How did he manage to get this thing published. Holy sh*t. This was definitely one of the most amazing rant reviews ever. I’m sorry that you had to read this crap, but thank you for keeping all of us away from this nonsense! 🙂

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  8. luvtoread says:

    Yikes! What a review!! I thoroughly enjoyed your review 🙂 A banana peel… too funny!
    I’ve only attempted one McEwan book, Atonement, and had to give up on it. It just wasn’t for me, and this was an attempt to read the book after I had seen the movie. I was wondering if his other works were similar, and it sounds like they are! I will definitely stay away from this book now!
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you!! haha glad you liked it!! Yep- I really am not a fan of him so can totally see that. I had a similar idea- but the movie is wayy better. I checked out quite a number of his books after that anyway, cos he was such a big deal, but hated them even more :/ Good shout!! Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Chris C Barnett says:

    Wonderful. I laughed all the way through this review. The only McEwan I’ve read was Atonement and I remember virtually nothing about it. Will certainly avoid this.

    Not sure if it’s my least favourite but one that I read recently (so it’s still in my colander-like mind) is Stephen King’s IT. I know everyone loves it but I despised the thing. Annoying characters, new story arcs that go absolutely nowhere, prose that made me feel nauseous and it’s SOOOOOOO unnecessarily long. Then, after 1100 odd pages, we get a simply inexcusable scene, again for no apparent reason, and then everyone forgets everything.
    Fortunately, I will forget all about it soon too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you!! Yeah I read that one- it’s probably his best work, and even then I thought the movie was wayyy better 😉 Ahh I’m gonna get things thrown at me (cos I do every time I say this) but I’m not a Stephen King fan, so I can relate to that! Ughh sounds really, really frustrating!! I’m avoiding that for sure!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Oh dear, the further I read in your review the worse it got – this sounds truly awful, I can’t believe you managed to persevere with it (though I’m glad you did, as I enjoyed reading this!). I totally agree with you – the whole idea is a gimmick, the writing sounds pretentious, moralising and boring… and that witnessing of the sex scene by the foetus is all kinds of gross!

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      haha trust me, the further I got in the book, the worse it got 😉 Fortunately, the one upside of the book (that I forgot to mention) was that it was mercifully short, otherwise there is no way I’d have finished it! Thank you!! I’m so glad you think so!!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    YES! Thank you! I have only read McEwan’s Atonement, and I was done at that. It was such a slog and I didn’t like any of the characters (from the perspective of a fetus?! WHAT? #americanspelling). Plus the *writing*. You’ve nailed it on the head here. I haven’t seen the film, and honestly, I don’t plan on it. I’m over him.

    The worst book I’ve read? That’s a challenge… I know that I strongly disliked Animal Farm as a teenager. But, I’ve been told by many that’s because I didn’t understand the content and I’d like it more now as an adult. It probably would have helped if I knew a single damn thing about Russia before reading it, right?

    I DNF quite a few books, though. Perhaps The Scarlet Letter? So much imagery I couldn’t take it. I also DNF’d Tender is the Night after trying to read it three times. I just couldn’t get into it! But as far as “worst” book? Probably some sort of crappy science fiction. Now I feel like I need to dig into this more! I don’t know myself as well as I thought, if I can’t answer this question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      You’re welcome!!! Ah thank you so much for saying that. I think Atonement’s his best work- and that’s *really* not saying much, cos I didn’t like it either. hehehe I know right- IT’S INSANE!!! Thank you!!
      I can actually relate to that- although I’m very passionate about Orwell, I think Animal Farm is a little simplistic- I much prefer 1984. I actually thought I was a little too old for it! But I do get what you mean about not being educated about Russia enough before reading it- I don’t know about the States, but I don’t think we’re really educated well about the true horrors of communism in the west.
      Ah I’ve never read Scarlet Letter. And I get what you mean about Tender is the Night- that one’s tough going. Hehe no worries- it’s a tough question!! I tend to blot out a lot of the bad books I read!!

      Like

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