Friday, 29 December 2017

Ian McEwan: Nutshell (2016)

Nutshell is a narration made from the point of view of a... foetus. Yes, a still unborn baby, a child in waiting. At the moment the tale starts off, this shakespearian foetus ("I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space") is just a few weeks away from leaving his mother's womb, a few weeks away from finally making it into the (outside) world. Ian McEwan's new novel is a foetus' monologue, but as we soon discover, it is also a crime narration: an adulterous woman and her lover plan to murder her husband. The woman is no other than the foetus-narrator's mother. And the lover is, well, his father's brother. This is a absolutely awesome mise en scène, even if it is not really the first time we encounter a foetus-narrator in literature. 

We realize, as the monologue progresses, that the unborn child's intelligence and verbal capacity is similar to, say, that of a young college guy, and an engagé one at that. He has a bit of a social conscience and philosophical leanings. With the addition of a layer of sophistication that our (very) young narrator has obtained from his mother's penchant for Radio 4 as well as cultural postcasts of all topics, which he somehow manages to listen to through the placenta. (He has even become some sort of wine connoisseur, thanks to the respectable variety of liquors his mother drinks and which get to him). Along with the action, the not-yet-born baby keeps on learning and so he changes and develops his psychology. Of course his extreme cleverness and sophistification is a literary fantasy license by McEwan, not unlike that of Gregor Samsa transforming himself into a monstrous insect: a sole giant supernatural element ingrained into a realistic story, or just a deliberately comic element.

Never mind. The narration flows wonderfully in any case, like nearly all of McEwans' works, no matter the register. It is ironic, and it is dead serious. It is hamletian: the foetus feels itself paralysed by the doubt of either beeing or not beeing. Not beeing means considering the possibility of erasing himself from existence (an existence that might be so disturbing) by comitting suicide hanging himself with the umbilical cord; the alternative, that is opting for beeing, is managing to finally be born and set out to act in the outside world: perhaps avenging his father's murder with an adult's hands: his future hands. The foetus' life is a full life within a very peculiar and strange world, the world we all live in inside our mother's placenta: only this one lasts nine months and not nine decades, as is the case with the existence coming right after birth. But fetal life is a life in full, one of its own all the same.

He anticipates his "death" to this uterine life, which means entering the utter world which is the physical world of born people, our world. He vindicates to be let in to have his chance. His chance to live the bunch of decades he's entitled to, to eventually manage to make it all the way to the 22nd century, perhaps beeing at that point, in that distant future, a fragile and thin (if quite in decent form) old man in his early 80s, by 2100. This is a awesome idea: the phoetus'birth is his death as a phoetus and so it is the end of this fetal nine-month life, it implies his entering into a sort of after life which is the birth into our world. (Of course, an inmediate idea springs out of this : Is there another after life after the adult's life?)

The (outside world) is a exhausting riddle to the soon-to-be-born narrator. His mother is a cold blooded killer who tries to escape the unbearable sense of guilt through self explanatory moral narratives, but she is also a riddle, as are his changing feelings towards her. She is beautiful and seductive and devastating, but also she is his sole shelter and protection. His uncle, on the contrary, is not that much of a riddle: rather a primary egotistic materialistic being whom he despises. Even without having been born yet, our protagonist has already had the chance to know about life's pains, about its maddening complexity, the lies, the secrecies, the betrayals. The moral mess which is the actual world. And yet he wants to fill his place in it, a world of things, and thoughts and actions, a most exciting place for a strong conscience, provided this is aided by the ordinary physical tools we all have and take for granted.

He yearns for the possesion of his due pair of hands and his pair of legs, the possibility to listen to his favourite music simply of his own will (not having to wait for his mother to, say, turn on a CD player), or drinking wine (if possible all kinds and varieties, as he loves it) by holding a cup with his own hand, or climbing mountains by himself; or whatever he wishes to do. So finally after a due cycle of existencial doubts (in him quite advanced in time), even more dramatic in his case as evil and murder have been involved, his decision is clear: he wishes to be helped into the sunlight, to show the head, to look directely at her mother's face. To unreservedly embrace beeing, with all its pleasures and pains, taking control of his existence. As it was his choice, his will be a true birth.

No comments:

Post a Comment