We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

This is an Oh Waily first, a guest post.  Please welcome Tori to her first foray into writing in the blogosphere.

Firstly, a big thank you to Ms. Oh Waily for giving me the opportunity to strut my stuff out here in the blogosphere.  I have always been keen to give blogging a try but have yet to actually go ahead and do it, so this little nudge is great.  My main concerns about writing a regular blog is that although I would have things to write about constantly (namely books I’ve read) the actual job of writing them doesn’t come as easily to me.  Which I find a wee bit depressing.  I’ve started this entry a number of times in a number of different ways.  And here I am banging on about things totally unrelated to the task at hand.  And here we are, digression at it’s finest.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a story as told by Eva, the mother of Kevin, in the form of letters to her husband.  Very early on we learn of why they need to talk about Kevin; their teenage son went on a Columbine-style killing spree at his high-school, murdering nine people.  The letters start after Kevin has been convicted and is serving time in a juvenile prison facility and moves along chronologically heading towards Kevin reaching the age at which he will be moved to an adult prison.  Each letter also has flashback portions which also move along chronologically, beginning with the parents meeting and life before Kevin.

As expected, this is a very bleak story.  We are privy to Eva’s ambivalence about becoming pregnant, the impact a child would have on a life she finds very satisfying.  When Kevin is conceived, he is immediately a hindrance, a concession to her husband that she regrets.  And from the moment of birth Eva finds Kevin unloveable – she doesn’t give birth to him, her body expels him; he cries for hours on end and is inconsolable; he even drives the kindest, sweetest nanny away with unbelievable calculating behavior for an infant.  This is not the story of a loving mother, tearing her hair out trying to understand why her son did this horrific thing.  This is the argument of nature vs. nurture, where there is no black and white answer, no clear grounds for a finding on either side.  Eva is a cold, self-centered mother, who’s contrived attempts at motherhood surely were the reason Kevin became the monster he did.  But his behavior from a very early age and as witnessed by those other than Eva displayed a nature that could only be described as evil.  Disturbing? Yes.  Great reading? Absolutely.

Author Lionel Shrivers’s writing style is one I found unnecessarily wordy at times, but this did not distract from a great story.  Many have complained about the obvious twist but it was a necessary device to move the story forward from what is already such a mind blowing event.  We are not just reading about Eva’s recollections and self reflection, there is a real feeling of something more to come, the need to know how it all played out that kept this reader on tenterhooks. Shriver has created characters that are monstrous but at times deserving of sympathy, and it is the development of these characters that is her real strength. I couldn’t (thankfully) relate to these characters but I needed to know what, why and how they did the things they did.  Word on the street is that her other books are not great, which is not hard to believe as she has written 7 others at least and none that I have heard of.

If the above hasn’t convinced you, this really is not a book for the faint hearted. There are quite graphically violent parts but even this is secondary to how disturbing the actual story and characters are.  If you are looking for a feel good book, this isn’t it.  But it is thought provoking and it will stay with you long after you finish reading it.  And if you have read it, please let me know what you thought.  I would love to have a good chat about it!

3 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

  1. Thanks Renee : ) And please do read it. I know Jax has. I really wanted to get it done before watching the movie, which from what I read online, is just as if not more eerie than the book. Tilda Swinton is a brilliant actress and she has gotten a lot of praise for her role.


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