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Ian McEwan talks 'Nutshell', his forthcoming novel narrated in utero -- exclusive

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Joost van den Broek

Atonement author Ian McEwan returns with his latest novel, Nutshell, this September — and it’s shaping up to be a weird one, in the very best way. Here’s a snippet from the official summary:

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home — a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse — but John’s not here. 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.

EW is thrilled to exclusively reveal Nutshell’s cover — and below, McEwan answered all our burning questions about the novel in advance of its September 13 release date.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired Nutshell?

IAN MCEWAN: Chatting one afternoon to my heavily pregnant daughter-in-law a couple of years ago, I became intensely aware of the silent presence in the room who was waiting and “wondering” about the world she was about to join. Later, I began to turn over the possibilities of an articulate, thoughtful presence with a limited but interesting perspective.

What else can you tell us about the plot and the characters?

My unborn narrator has privileged access to pillow talk and to the careful plotting of a murder. What can he do about it? His options are necessarily constrained. But he has his thoughts, and he might find a way to intervene — or he might be too late. Might he take revenge? As for characters, his mother is clearly a great beauty, praised in verse by a well-known poet. Her lover is both a dull fool and highly sexually charged — a fatal combination.

Do you like these characters or do they terrify you a bit?

I like all my characters — not as people but as creations. That is, I like them if they turn out to be well-drawn and convince me.

What are you most excited for your readers to see?

What it’s like to be cramped, upside down inside another person, listening to her “loudly squelching heart.” Emotions are, among all else, bodily states and my narrator gets to have firsthand experience of everything his mother feels, even though he can see nothing. 

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian — a short novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success. I’m also re-reading The English and Their History by Robert Tombs — a grand narrative account of the English over thirteen centuries.