Book Review: Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Nutshell (Audiobook) by Ian McEwan and Rory Kinnear (Narrator)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review

I’m being generous with three stars. I say this because while I love the way Ian McEwan crafts sentences, there are parts of Nutshell that could have been completely excised and the story would have been all the better for it. This makes the fourth novel by McEwan I’ve read. The first, Atonement, I hold in the highest regard as one of the most finely-crafted novels ever published in the English language. Likewise, On Chesil Beach and The Children Act were excellent reads with a lot to say about the human condition. These other novels had characters which were fully-human and expertly-drawn. In short, they were believable. When I was reading about them and their lives I felt as if I were spending time with people who were real and had something important to say. Not so with Nutshell.

He learns during the course of the novel of a plot concocted by Trudy and his Uncle Claude (Judy’s lover) to murder John Cairncross, his father and Judy’s estranged husband.

Nutshell, which reimagines Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a fetus in his mother’s womb, is narrated by the unnamed fetus. His (the fetus, of course) perception of events and knowledge of the world is based entirely on what he picks up from inside of his mother, Trudy. He also seems to inherently hold the opinions and worldviews of a conservative middle-class Englishman, but we’ll ignore that for now. He learns during the course of the novel of a plot concocted by Trudy and his Uncle Claude (Judy’s lover) to murder John Cairncross, his father and Judy’s estranged husband.

A poet without honor in his own home yet held in high esteem among his peers and acolytes, John lacks the financial success or critical acclaim that would elevate him outside of his own circle.

John Cairncross is a tenderhearted man, an Englishman of the most delicate sensibilities. A poet without honor in his own home yet held in high esteem among his peers and acolytes, John lacks the financial success or critical acclaim that would elevate him outside of his own circle. Claude, however, is John’s antithesis: a crude man of pedestrian tastes and baser instincts, with few concerns above money, sex, food, and drink. He’s a brute wholly convinced of his own virility, disdainful of all who don’t ascribe to his own particular brand of traditional masculinity.

Whether the reward is the inherent pleasure found in the act of reading itself, something worthwhile gained in the reading, or even something else less describable, we all read for a purpose.

We’re meant to dislike him and Trudy as well. But to be perfectly honest, Trudy is the only character in the novel I found to be redeemable. Her flaws are not those which provoke disgust in the reader, at least not this one. Claude and John, and the unnamed fetus, which is presumably male, are each dislikable in their own ways. This is not to say that literature is or should be a popularity contest, it’s just worth mentioning here. Another thing that I thought about while reading Nutshell is the fact that, while all fiction requires the reader to suspend disbelief to one degree or another, this is usually done so that the reader may reap some type of reward. Whether the reward is the inherent pleasure found in the act of reading itself, something worthwhile gained in the reading, or even something else less describable, we all read for a purpose. Oftentimes, we bring multiple purposes to the same text. Information, entertainment, leisure, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t really get anything out of Nutshell.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Quote for the Day: November 18th, 2021

Snitch (Audible Original) by Olivia Gatwood

Well, sometimes you become what you came from, and sometimes you make a vow against it.

Olivia Gatwood, Snitch (Audible Original)

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Goodreads Reading Challenge Update

There are 52 reading days left in the year. My current count is 211 books, which means I have 52 days to read 89 books. For those of you who are interested in the mathematical breakdown, this means I’ll have to read 1.68 books per day for the rest of the year to meet my goal. Looks like I’m going to be settling in with a stack of picture books and graphic novels. By the way, those totally count, and you can bite me if you disagree.

I missed my goal by two last year and I’ll be darned if I let a late-evening nap on December 31st make me fail again.

I missed my goal by two last year and I’ll be darned if I let a late-evening nap on December 31st make me fail again. To be fair to myself, I do work nearly 50 hours a week at my day job so my free time is limited. Add that onto the fact that this blog (which I love dearly and wouldn’t give up for any amount of money) quickly went from a side project to a second full-time job, and I’m constantly going sixty per.

The other day I was taking lunch in my office at work and one of my employees came to ask me a question and caught me dead asleep.

But you know what? It’s true what they say: Dreams don’t work unless you do. I would like to be more intentional about carving out time for R&R though because I am never not tired. The other day I was taking lunch in my office at work and one of my employees came to ask me a question and caught me dead asleep. I’m talking mouth open, blacked out. But ironically, my hand was still in perfect position on top of my computer mouse. If that’s not #hustleculture in a nutshell then I don’t know what is. He immediately videoed it and SnapChatted it to another employee so I’m sure I’m enjoying a presence as a meme somewhere on the Internet right now.

Speaking of coworkers, another of mine just hit 100,000 pages for the year toward their reading goal and color me impressed. Between the two of us we probably read more than a hundred average humans combined each year.

At any rate, I can’t see myself stopping the tradition anytime soon, especially since I’ve got a TBR mountain that would make an Olympian (god, not athlete) feel inferior.

I have lots of other librarian and bookseller friends who set reading goals each year, but there’s a growing contingent of them who are dispensing with the tradition, citing it as stressful and sucking the fun out of reading. And they’re not wrong. If I were to put very much stock into whether I make my goal or not, it’d probably depress me on the years I didn’t make it. I don’t let it get to me as much as I used to, except for last year when I missed it by TWO FREAKING BOOKS. Huh…maybe they’re onto something. Oh well. At any rate, I can’t see myself stopping the tradition anytime soon, especially since I’ve got a TBR mountain that would make an Olympian (god, not athlete) feel inferior.

Did you set a reading goal this year? Do you ever? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. Only if you want to, of course.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at fred.slusher@thevoraciousbibliophile.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Book Review: Havana Nocturne by T.J. English

Audiobook cover of Havana Nocturne by T.J. English

***Note: I read the unabridged audiobook version of Havana Nocturne, which was narrated by Mel Foster. It is available to order wherever audiobooks are sold.***

The post-Prohibition years brought the United States Mob a lot of unwanted governmental scrutiny. Gone were the days where they could do pretty much whatever they liked and get away with it. Gone was the unchecked commercialization of vice and sin that filled the Mob’s coffers and lined the pockets of more than a few corrupt politicians. No, the Mob knew that if it was to remain a dominant force, a new playground would need to be found. Luckily for the Mob, Havana was ripe for the picking.

Gone was the unchecked commercialization of vice and sin that filled the Mob’s coffers and lined the pockets of more than a few corrupt politicians.

Truth be told, the convergence of circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect. While the Mob could no longer count on a complacent government to turn a blind eye at home, Cuba in the 1950s was suffering under the brutal and repressive regime of Fulgencio Batista, a cruel and avaricious tyrant if ever one drew breath. Meyer Lansky, one of the most infamous gangsters of that era, got himself, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and their compatriots in good with Batista and started building casinos, hotels, and other entertainment venues in Havana. As long as Batista received his cut, the Mob was free to turn Havana into a kind of alternative Eden, a place where any sort of illicit fun could be had—for the right price, of course.

As long as Batista received his cut, the Mob was free to turn Havana into a kind of alternative Eden, a place where any sort of illicit fun could be had—for the right price, of course.

What Lansky, Luciano, and Batista failed to realize is that there were other players at the table with agendas of their own. Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement was determined to overthrow Batista’s regime and usher in a new era for Cuba, one based on Marxist-Leninist principles as well as egalitarianism.

Fidel Castro being questioned by reporters, date and location unknown

From 1956 to 1958, Castro and his fellow revolutionaries staged their uprising and engaged in guerrilla warfare on both urban and rural fronts, all culminating in the Battle of Santa Clara on January 1st, 1959. Led by Che Guevara, the battle was a decisive victory for the rebels as it led to Batista’s departure to the Dominican Republic (ruled at that time by former ally Rafael Trujillo) and allowed Castro to seize power. The Mob’s playground had new kids on the swings. The rest as they say is history.

Che Guevara after the Battle of Santa Clara

T.J. English’s book is impeccably researched and expertly told, making the narrative equally compelling for those familiar with the story as well as those who are reading about it for the first time. Havana Nocturne is not to be missed.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Book Review: Truth & Beauty: [A Friendship] by Ann Patchett (Audiobook)

Truth & Beauty is an exquisitely written and heartfelt evocation of a friendship. Reading it reminded me that most of the time we are incapable of saving anyone other than ourselves. We love, and that love may indeed be reciprocated, but we cannot pull someone back from the cliff of their own self-destruction by sheer force of will. Love is not a panacea. Losing someone we love is torture in its most essential form, distilled and pure. In the absence of someone we’ve loved more than our own lives, how do we reckon with what comes next in the aftermath? I don’t know that there’s an answer for this. Perhaps memory is the only thing that saves us. By committing to memory and the page everything that we hold dearest, we stave off our own oblivion, if only for the briefest of moments.

Perhaps memory is the only thing that saves us. By committing to memory and the page everything that we hold dearest, we stave off our own oblivion, if only for the briefest of moments.

I think that’s why Ann Patchett wrote Truth & Beauty. By writing about the love and friendship she shared with Lucy, everyone who reads it will know that there were once two friends named Ann and Lucy who loved each other with everything they had, and that death could not quell that love or erase its impact.

Favorite Quotes from the Book

We had invented time and could not kill it fast enough.

For the first time in my life I’ve found myself praying for actual things. Before I only prayed for stuff like wisdom and love and states of mind. These past few months, though, I’ve been much more materialistic. I want definite action on God’s part. Is this wrong? I worry that I’ll get punished somehow. I need to get out of this mess but I just don’t know how so I ask for his help.

From one of Lucy’s letters to Ann

She [Lucy] loved Christ for his suffering, for what they had in common. With all his strength, even Christ had asked if this burden could be lifted from him. The idea that pain was not a random thing, but a punishment of the evil upon the good, the powerful upon the weak, gave her something to rage against. After all, what is the point of being angry at nature when nature could care less? If you cried against barbarism, then at least you were standing up to a consciousness that could hypothetically be shaped. When Lucy believed that there were actually things in the world that were worse than what had happened to her, she could pull herself up on this knowledge like a rope. When she lost sight of it, she sank.

I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not, the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew even goes out with a bang when you try to call on it just like a light bulb cracking off when you throw the switch.

From one of Lucy’s letters to Ann

History is strangely incomprehensible when you’re standing in the middle of it.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

All Aboard the ARC: The Collection Plate: Poems (Audiobook) by Kendra Adams

***Note: I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

I try my best to keep up with fresh new voices in the world of poetry. I like work that sidles up next to you and punches you in the face when you’re least expecting it, and Kendra Allen does exactly that. The Collection Plate covers so much ground in so limited a frame, one could almost call Allen a magician. Herein lies poems (songs? psalms?) exploring Black girlhood/womanhood, religion (its redemption(s) as well as its confines and strictures), sexual politics, family history, the tyranny of memory, and the line(age)s we cross when we decide who we’re going to be.

Herein lies poems (songs? psalms?) exploring Black girlhood/womanhood, religion (its redemption(s) as well as its confines and strictures), sexual politics, family history, the tyranny of memory, and the line(age)s we cross when we decide who we’re going to be.

the pastor is our uncle and our uncle di- / vests me of my volition / back on land / I drip / I dribble, I cough up / who I shoulda been

From “Evening service”

How does one even begin to analyze works this explosive? Poets don’t often compare religious ceremonies, in this case baptism, to a divestiture of one’s own free will, but Allen does so with aplomb and an assuredness that rings true for anyone familiar with charismatic faith traditions.

Poets don’t often compare religious ceremonies, in this case baptism, to a divestiture of one’s own free will, but Allen does so with aplomb and an assuredness that rings true for anyone familiar with charismatic faith traditions.

I don’t want to distract from the beauty of this collection with an overabundance of my own commentary, so I’ll just leave it with you like this: I’ve already bought my own copy so I can read it again and again. And again.

The Collection Plate: Poems is now available to order wherever books are sold. You can follow Kendra Allen on Twitter @kendracanyou.

Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.

Audiobooks Are Book-Books

This is the hill I’m willing to die on: audiobooks are book-books.

Every now and again on Twitter, I’ll see friends of mine reacting to a viral tweet in which some idiotic blowhard claims that audiobooks are cheating.

It’s always a lot to unpack. First of all, reading is not a competition, which precludes the possibility of cheating. In fact, if these naysayers want to get technical, audiobooks (or at least their predecessors) are older than print books. Before the printed word existed, stories were passed down orally from one generation to the next. This is why policing what counts or doesn’t count as “reading” makes no sense to me.

Before the printed word existed, stories were passed down orally from one generation to the next. This is why policing what counts or doesn’t count as “reading” makes no sense to me.

My own relationship with audiobooks had a fraught beginning. As someone who has ADHD, let’s just say my attention varies. Sometimes, I can focus on the same thing for hours at a time and at other times, I struggle to stay with one task for more than two or three sequential minutes.

That said, I never liked audiobooks as a child. I preferred print. Now, part of this can be chalked up to access. Every other child who grew up in the early aughts knows how difficult it was to follow along with the audiobook narrators chosen to spin the yarns on the infamous classroom cassette player.

Every other child who grew up in the early aughts knows how difficult it was to follow along with the audiobook narrators chosen to spin the yarns on the infamous classroom cassette player.

The other part has to do with the way my brain operates. You see, no one ever told me that to really enjoy an audiobook, you have to have (A) a good narrator; and (B) be able to adjust your “ear reading” speed to more closely match your “eye reading” speed. Now before I make anyone angry, I am speaking of my own personal experience. That’s just the way it works for me.

Because of the way my brain works, I can’t listen to audiobooks on CD. I’ve tried it. For a long time, I said audiobooks weren’t for me because I’d only ever tried them on CD (or cassette). Even my first tentative forays into digital audiobooks were challenging. Once I figured out how much adjusting my listening speed heightened the pleasure of the experience, I was hooked.

The first audiobook I listened to (and enjoyed) was Born With Teeth, the dazzling memoir by Kate Mulgrew (of Star Trek and Orange is the New Black fame). Kate Mulgrew showed me how audiobooks are an art form all their own, and that a story well told is its own reward.

Now, audiobooks are part of my everyday life. I have an Audible account, but there’s no way I could afford every single audiobook I want to listen to, so I use OverDrive. With OverDrive, you can access thousands of ebooks, digital audiobooks, and other media with your public library card. Since OverDrive simply takes back your borrowed items when they’re due, you never have to worry about late fees or replacement costs.

Now, every time I see someone dissing audiobooks on my timeline, I’m quick to join the fray. Stories are stories are stories, and books are books are books. So, whether you’re reading a favorite paperback in bed, on your phone at the airport, on your Kindle at the beach, or in your car as you drive down a lone stretch of highway, you are a reader. You are valid. Read (and listen) on.

Thanks for reading The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please follow, like, comment, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at thevoraciousbibliophile@yahoo.com or catch me on Twitter @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.