View from the Outside

A soliloquy from the previously unborn narrator of Ian McEwan’s Nutshell.


“So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting, and wondering who I’m in, What I’m in for.”

That Ian McEwan. What a writer. Using me, en ventre sa mere, as the observer-voice of Nutshell. Only he could pull off such a literary stunt successfully. Making the story a murder mystery, where Trudy, my over-sexed mother, and Claude, her trashy brother-in-law, “vapid beyond invention,” kill John Cairncross, my kindly poet father?

Murder by poisoned smoothie — sweetened antifreeze! Would you believe that? And me reporting from my hidden, in-utero post how the two of them did it, and why. Mother boozing and listening to podcasts alone in her and Father’s messy but valuable old house, and she and Claude spending most of their spare time (when they weren’t plotting) screwing.

What an education for an embryo!

Now that I’m out of mother and on my own, have I a story to tell about the trial and its aftermath, the part McEwan left off. Nan Talese — McEwan’s editor — will sure love this one. McEwan, too, who will have to agree I can write my story with more verisimilitude than he did. I have to say, though, that the guy really knows how to use the stylish language. Exequy, gravid, scansion, aubade — I had to look up words again and again.

Anyway, I’m looking for a good literary agent to take my manuscript to publishers. True crime it will be — not phony reports from the womb, like McEwan conjured. I can tell what he left out in Nutshell, and what happened when his story ended.

Who was Elodie, for example? Simply Father’s mentee, or more? How did the crass plotters get foiled? Who gets Father’s house in St. Johns Wood or, for that matter, Claude’s in Primrose Hill? Were Mum and her creepy brother-in-law arrested, indicted, tried, and convicted? Was I born in a prison? What happened to me later?

I know. And I’m not telling McEwan.

I’ll open with some lines from Father’s poetry, something prophetic but with mixed meanings: “To the end of the race,” or something like that. And I’ll add some theatrically romantic lines: “We’ll always have Dubrovnik.” For sure I’ll write better sex scenes than those depicting clumsy Claude humping his pregnant sister-in-law.

I’ve got a bestseller, so publishers, get ready! But like the old saying goes, first I have to grow up.

Ronald Goldfarb is an attorney. His column, CapitaLetters, appears regularly in the Independent.

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