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Nutshell: An Evening with Ian McEwan – The Lowry, Salford

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Times have changed. In the past, a book launch involved a group of readers sipping wine and eating cheese nibbles in Waterstones before hesitatingly approaching the author to get an autograph on a first edition they’d picked up cheap in Oxfam. Things are more streamlined, stage-managed and posh these days. For one thing, the books are often pre-signed so an actual face-to-face meeting with the authorcan be rare.

Publication of Ian McEwan’s new book,Nutshell,is celebrated in the sedate surroundings of The Lowry. The format is familiar, but not especially exciting; journalist Rachel Cooke puts questions to the author who reads extracts from his new novel. If you close your eyes, it feels very like listening to an edition of Radio 4’s Front Row.

There is no denying that Ian McEwan deserves such respectful treatment. He too has changed over the years, since starting out as a writer of short stories that tended towards taboo subjects like incest, bestiality, and castration. His new novelNutshellis of interest to theatregoers as it uses the plot of Hamlet in a highly unconventional way. The story is told from the viewpoint of a 38-week-old foetus who due to his unique connection with his mother, realises that she and his uncle plan to murder his father. The extracts read out on the night of this revieware full of Shakespearian in-jokes: the first thought of the narrator is ‘To Be’ and the dialogue of one character is made up entirely of now over familiar phrases coined by The Bard.

The discussion between McEwan and Cooke is heavyweight. Anyone hoping for a few cheerful anecdotes is going to be disappointed. Subjects include whether we are living in a post-rational world and politics of the self. It becomes a little intimidating. Formulating a question for an author with such an intellect and vast vocabulary is daunting. You find yourself re-evaluating McEwan’s back catalogue, wondering if there were complexities that were overlooked when first read.

McEwan’s approach is deadpan but measured. He recounts dryly the underwhelmed reaction of his editor to the plot of his new novel. Although McEwan’s appreciation of the work of those involved in adapting his novels into films and the support of his readers is sincere he expresses himself in such painstaking detail, you feel the urge to assure him that you do not doubt him.

An Evening with Ian McEwan gives an insight into the care and effort the taken by the author in his work. You can’t help but feel, however, that the more ramshackle events in the past, were a bit more fun.

Reviewed on 31August 2016 | Image: Contributed

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