18 June, 2021

To Be Or Not To Be Ian’s Baby

McEwan’s ventriloquism gives voice to an unborn, modern Hamlet—seething, philosophising and sipping nectar

In Elsinore
Ian McEwan. Nutshell is his 17th novel
Photograph by Getty Images
To Be Or Not To Be Ian’s Baby

Hamlet’s soliloquising foetus, this novel’s prenatal protagonist and reliable narrator, cannot stand his uncle Claude, “who washes his private parts at the basin where my mother washes her face”. Worse, being in his mother Trudy’s belly means he is witness to their constant foreplay. “Here I am, in the front stalls, awkwardly seated upside down. This is a minimal production, bleakly modern, a two-hander.”

A bald pun in Shakespearean sexual stage directions follows. “With able thumbs, she hooks her panties clear. Enter Claude.” And later, “The briefest pause. Exit Claude.”

Clearly, there’s no epic snafu of the kind described in McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, forever parodied by the gifted Jim Crace as the couple that couldn’t “get over a crap shag on their wedding night”.

Hamlet grumbles, “Not everyone knows what it’s like to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose. By this late stage, they should be refraining on my...

In this article:

More from Nandini Lal

Latest Magazine

June 21, 2021

other articles from the issue

articles from the previous issue

Other magazine section