Kate Clanchy at The Guardian:
This is a short novel narrated by a foetus who is also Hamlet. “Bounded in the nutshell” of (Ger-) Trudy’s womb he listens, with a cervix for an arras, to her planning to murder his father, John Cairncross, in partnership with her lover, John’s brother Claude (-ius). The state of Denmark is being played by a decaying, but entire, Georgian town house in central London, based surely on the legendarily unimproved Islington home of the poet Hugo Williams. It has been inherited by hopeless poetry publisher John, is coveted by property developer Claude and is worth a cool £8m. Though the narrator at one point has a gorgeous and explicitly Elizabethan dream – “A cold mist on the day of my desertion, a three-day journey on horseback, long rows of the English poor in the rutted lanes” – the year is mostly 2015.
This may not sound like an entirely promising read: a talking foetus could be an unconvincing or at least tiresomely limited narrator, and updatings of Shakespeare often strain at their own seams. From the start, though, McEwan manages to establish both the groggy, gripping parameters of the uterus – “My limbs are folded hard across my chest, my head is wedged into my only exit. I wear my mother like a tight-fitting cap” – and that this foetus, Hamlet-style, is “king of infinite space”. He sounds rather like Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’sLolita; the same grand, elegiac tone; the same infinite knowledge of history and English poetry, the same covetous, obsessively physical eye.