Nutshell – Ian McEwan

November 1, 2016 at 14:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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nutshellWhen I reviewed McEwan’s last book, I noted that it felt somewhat formulaic; a little bit too heavy on research and, dare I say, somewhat underwhelming.

Well whether stung by my review or simply fired with inspiration, Ian McEwan has released a book that you could never accuse of being formulaic. It’s a black comedy, inspired by Hamlet, narrated by a nine-month old foetus from the confines of his mother’s womb. Not one of the larger sections at Dymocks, that one…

It’s a terrific book. Audacious and joyful to read, it is a literary tour de force. (Literary skill that, as you can see by the use of such a hackneyed phrase, I lack.) The womb-bound protagonist offers soliloquys on everything from contemporary politics to enduring having his father’s brother’s penis thrusting inches from his nose, whilst we follow the plotting between his uncle, Claude, and mother, Trudy, to kill his father by means of a hipster smoothie laced with antifreeze.

It all sounds utterly preposterous, but the extraordinary writing and compelling narrative drive just sweeps you along – it’s an exhilarating read. There’s literary nods and winks a-plenty along the way, but all that cleverness and conceit avoids being, well, clever and conceited, and just adds to the joy of reading this slim volume.

I read somewhere that McEwan said he enjoyed writing this book, and it shows. It’s a cracker. Get yourself a copy.


The Children Act – Ian McEwan

August 15, 2015 at 16:19 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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It’s always a pleasure to open a nmcewan children actew book by Ian McEwan. Familiar as an old pair of jeans, yet always fresh and new. From the moment you sink into the luminous prose to the point when you emerge, blinking, from the fine textured world McEwan conjures, you are swept along by the sheer technical mastery of the medium. McEwan is truly a great author, a master of his craft.

And yet, and yet, something niggled with me slightly about this novel. Not that it wasn’t executed with the customary brilliance. Not that the plot wasn’t intriguing and though-provoking, and the characters fully rounded and believable. No, somehow, there was this niggle in my mind that it was somewhat formulaic. A really good novel, yes, but ‘just another Ian McEwan’, rather than some new statement. It sounds almost sacrilegious to say it, but I was strangely reminded of  Dick Francis’ novels – basically all the same story, but made (somewhat) interesting by the illuminating background research into whatever the protagonist happened to be – a photographer, a wine merchant, a computer teacher etc etc.

In ‘The Children Act’, the main character is a family court judge, and the book revolves around both her troubled marriage and her caseload, most particularly Adam, an intense teenager who wishes to refuse lift-saving treatment for religious reasons.

And, à la Francis, we also get quite significant discourses on the processes and ethics of the family court system in England, coupled with expositions on the religious mores of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This is a much, much better novel than an airport thriller. But somehow, for me, the assemblage of raw materials failed to gel into a great book.

Solar – Ian McEwan

November 18, 2012 at 11:55 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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This book had been on the shelf since Christmas, and although Mrs Chillikebab had read it, I hadn’t got around to it – until now. McEwan always makes for an interesting and entertaining read, and this book is no exception.

It’s a very very dark (pretty much black) comedy that revolves around the central character, Michael Beard. He is a most unlikeable man – a solipsistic, obese philanderer who coasts through life on the glory of a Nobel Prize won as a young man.

He ends up in charge of a government research institute investigating climate change, and along the way (thanks to the work of a brilliant young graduate) discovers a mechanism that will deliver cheap, workable solar energy.

The science in the book is impeccable and adds authenticity to the novel, although to my mind does not dominate the story and is peripheral to the plot. Mrs Chillikebab disagreed, and thought the whole thing felt like a vehicle for McEwan to show off his research. Your mileage may vary.

There are a few moments of real slapstick comedy, but for the most part the humour edges more towards ‘uncomfortable’ than ‘funny’. There are also a few weak points in the story; the extended section when beard goes to the Arctic feels overdone and interrupts the flow of the novel rather.

These are minor gripes, however – I enjoyed the book. The ending is abrupt but satisfying (to me at least; other reviewers have felt a bit short-changed), and the intertwined threads of all the characters come together at the climax is worthy of an Ayckbourn play.

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