Innovative storyteller Ian McEwan has been exploring the depth up humanity for years. His latest novel Nutshell, just may be his most important and penetrating examination of the 21st century to date. Nutshell is a crime story unlike any other, told from the point of view of an unborn child who bears witness to his mother and uncle’s plot to muder his father. It’s a heart wrenching story of just how far our society has devolved and the mess we’ve created for the next generation.
Lies Will be the Truth
McEwan brilliantly portrays the world of the 21st century though it’s poetry described as, “…Too much about self, too glassily cold with regard to others, too many grips in too short a line.” We’ve become a world of pessimists since, “Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking class of solutions. We excite ourselves with dark thoughts in plays, poems, novels, movies… We’re bloated with privileges and delights, as well as complaints…”.
The picture throughout Nutshell is one of a world reeling with it’s preoccupation with self in light of it’s rejection of any truth outside our own perceptions. The amoral malaise of a godless society is on full display as the unborn child says to himself, “Who knows what is true? I can hardly collect the evidence for myself. Like everyone else, I’ll take what I want, whatever suits me.”Later on adding, “My selfhood would be sculpted by pleasure, conflict, experience ideas and my own judgement as rocks and trees are shaped by rain, wind and time.” There are no more absolutes or truth, just feelings.
I declare my undeniable feeling for who I am. If I turn out to be white, I may identify as black. And vise versa. I may announce myself as disabled, or disabled in context. If my identity is that of a believer, I’m easily wounded, my flesh torn to bleeding by my questioning of my faith.Offended, I enter a state of grace. Should inconvenient opinions hover near me like fallen angels or evil dijnn (a mile being too near), I’ll be in need of the special campus safe room equipped with Play-Doh and looped footage of gambolling puppies. Ah, the intellectual life! I may need advance warning if upsetting books or ideas threaten my very being by coming too close, breathing on my face, my brain, like unwholesome dogs. I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be.
McEwan has nailed us as a culture, “I’ll feel, therefore I’ll be.” We reject the facts that,”Biology is destiny, and destiny is digital, and in this case binary.” With no perceived shackles of “normalcy” or “truth” we seek to control life by the only standard we deem appropriate, our feelings and since they are transitory, who we are is as fleeting as chaff in the wind.
The culmination of this is mirrored in the mother of the story who has helped her brother-in-law kill her husband, so that they can reap the benefits of millions in the sale of the marital house. Her unborn son realizes that, “…my mother is in step with the new times. She may no know it, but she marches with the movement. Her status as a murderer is in fact, and item in the world outside herself. But that’s old thinking. She affirms, she identifies as innocent…Lies will be her truth.”(Italics in the quote from the book).
This is the world we’ve created, this is the legacy we leave to our unborn. Lies for the truth. Nutshell reads like Romans 1 where the Apostle Paul says,
God’s Wrath on Unrighteousness For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 ESV)
Nutshell is tragically pro-life, showing the utter disregard that our society has for the unborn. Since we as a society see reality in only what we feel, biology no longer applies, therefore the unborn are only children if we feel they are. Otherwise they are victims of our perceptions. We exchange the truth for a lie to enable apathy and at worst contempt which facilitates wholesale murder. Nutshell is a reminder to those of us that are pro-life, it is not just saving the precious babies, but caring for it and the mother afterwards. For children who are born and are unwanted, we have a responsibility to step up and provide the homes and families, welcoming them into love. If we don’t, the life we save will be lost to a world that clearly has no regard for it whatsoever.
Nutshell is a tragic masterpiece that illuminates the dark recesses of our world, reminding us that life is ugly and cruel without hope. It’s an important, worthwhile read and one of the best books of the year.