There are mornings when I want to move, to take a brisk walk, but Tikka wants to stop and smell the leaves, and the bushes, and everything else in her path. It pays to slow down. As a a reward for patience, I was treated to this lovely ephemeral blossom, a reminder that beauty, and what is most important and essential about life is often close at hand.
Which brings me back to where I am supposed to be this on this lovely Saturday, writing about Ian McEwan's 2016 novel Nutshell. I mentioned that I had started the book earlier in the week, here, and I stand by what I wrote. It is a hilariously funny and enjoyable read. But there is also a lot more to the novel than mere entertainment, or even its witty send-up of contemporary Western civilization.
The prose is beautiful and elegant and often cold, more sarcastic and often bitter than warm and cuddly, which can be quite disconcerting from a narrator who is in fact not yet a person, a fetus 2 weeks shy of his supposed "due date". In fact that is one aspect of the book that is brilliant while it makes the reader at times quite uncomfortable. This is no Boss Baby or Look Who's Talking; there are laughs but McEwan is far to sophisticated to sink to common one liners. And yes, if you'e read any reviews, the story pretends to be a modern retelling of Hamlet, with our narrator's mother, Trudy, sleeping with her husband's brother, Claude. And certainly a fetus, flooded with emotions and wine and all too close proximity to too much sex is a completely impotent Hamlet. In fact, all the wine and sex, and the narrator's observations of the flood of feelings brought on by both, can also make the reader, this reader anyway, flinch a little bit.
And yet, there is so much more. One holds on, wondering if this hormone-driven emotional wreck of a woman and her stupidly arrogant lover will actually pull it off. There is no mystery about the crime; we are in on it from the beginning. And yet we are kept guessing, just as our young narrator is kept guessing, until we reach the end, the truly perfectly timed end. But I mentioned that there is more to this novel than thinking fetuses, witty commentary, and fun romps through the baser sides of human emotions, and there is. In this, in some ways the young unnamed hero is the our perfect modern everyman, because, as increasingly becomes apparent, we are all trapped in the same kind of bubble, incapable of action, incapable actually of even knowing what is real and what is just intellectual folderol. The narrator is constrained, but we are also constrained. He is flooded with maternal hormones and too much wine, not knowing what is real and what is not. But we are not much different. We spend our lives bombarded by information, by media stories and appeals, our sense and our emotions manipulated daily by media to the point that our judgements and our sense of well-being can be shaped by ideas and things that may be terrible or wonderful, but which are really just abstractions to us. They affect our sense of the world, but are not really a part of the world we inhabit each and every day, our own small slice of it.
As is natural, our narrator finally finds the world, his own small patch of the world, and finds that there is no comparison really between the reality of the present and the abstraction, between the world in which we spend our lives, which we can choose to own and possess and allow its beauty to possess us, or the abstraction, which can hold us, impotent. In the end, even in the face of of disruption, hope lies waiting, quietly, in the most unexpected places.
A slithering moment of waxy, creaking emergence, and here I am, set naked on the kingdom. Like stout Cortez (I remember a poem my father once recited), I'm amazed. I'm looking down, with what wonder and surmise, at the napped surface of a blue bath towel. Blue. I've always known, verbally at least, I've always been able to infer what is blue -- sea, sky, lapis lazuli, gentians -- mere abstractions. Now I have it at last, I own it, and it possesses me. More gorgeous than I dared believe. That is just a beginning, at the indigo end of the spectrum.