The figurative language of Ian McEwan

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about similes and metaphors from writer Ian McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell.

As a longtime fan of British writer Ian McEwan (pictured above), I am always cheered when he produces a new book and I try to get my hands on a copy as quickly as possible. His latest, Nutshelltakes a murder story and tells it from the point of view of a surprisingly bright and articulate unborn child. (The child’s mother and lover want to kill the child’s father.) I found the plot a bit too clever by half, but, as always, appreciated McEwan’s superb use of language.

Here are the similes and metaphors that appealed to me most:

  • This is my collection of facts and postulates. Hunched over them like a patient philatelist, I’ve added some recent items to my set.
  • All the sources agree, the house is filthy. Only clichés serve it well: peeling, crumbling, dilapidated. Frost has sometimes glazed and stiffened the curtains in winter; in heavy rains the drains, like dependable banks, return their deposit with interest; in summer, like bad banks, they stink.
  • Damage has spread plaster dust like icing sugar across the spines of famous books.
  • Instead, dull to the point of brilliance, vapid beyond invention his banality as finely wrought as the arabesques of the Blue Mosque.
  • Each brave new topic rises groaning to its feet, totters, then falls to the next.
  • But I’m having my very first headache, right around the forehead, a gaudy bandanna, a carefree pain dancing to her pulse.
  • I like the sound of her voice, the human approximation, I would say, of the oboe, slightly cracked, with a quack on the vowels.


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