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This book blew me away when I read it and although it was a while ago, it was one of the best books I have ever read. It stays with you long after you finish it.
Whats the story?
We meet Eva, a woman somewhat reluctantly pregnant, who loves her work and is unsure about bringing a baby into her life. From the moment of his birth, her son is a difficult baby, growing into a difficult child and young adult who, as a teenager, commits a terrible crime. This, however, is definitely not a thriller - the theme of the book is the relationship between the boy and his mother and on whether this shapes the killer he eventually becomes. Told from the mothers perspective, her pain and devastation are shocking to read and the author skillfully conveys this.
The theme, essentially about nature or nurture, is fascinating and thought provoking. For me, perhaps the most interesting aspect was the author's note at the end of the book. Here she describes her readers views on the central theme and they are clearly polarised. I had taken one interpretation and assumed that it was the only view one could have of what happened. I was amazed to discover readers had taken the opposite interpretation. Its a skillful author indeed who can write a multi layered story which leaves the reader to make up their own mind.
When written, the story was original and covered a subject few authors had tackled before. Although since then there have been other books on a similar theme, I believe this remains the best of them.
Incidentally, I saw the film after reading the book and although it was good I found it a far more depressing and bleak view than the one the book conveyed, despite the subject matter.
This is an absolute must read, showing motherhood from a completely controversial and contrasting point of view. It is the end that we all hope would never come but Shriver experiments with the feelings and emotions of a strained mother. Kevin is a boy that most of us hate from the start of the novel, he appears to be a nasty and manipulative young boy, but you are constantly questioning yourself as to why you already hate this boy from such a young age. Which intrigues you more as you want to see how he turns out. Eva however, although her maternal instincts don't flourish with Kevin, it is heart wrenching to see how much she tries and to the great extent that she fails. Keep in mind when reading this novel that it is written in first person, so are the acts of Kevin over exaggerated, or was he really this bad?
Since finishing Uni for good this June I have spent more time lounging around on the internet rather than reading. Even when I picked up 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' from the library I didn't open the book up until a few weeks later. Then I got into it...and finished the book within a day. It is surprising how productive I can be with an afternoon off the internet!
Released in 2003, 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' is a critically acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver. In 2011 a movie adaptation was released starring Tilda Swinton, which was how I first came to hear of the book. My sister really enjoyed watching the movie and recommended it to me, so I decided to go one step better and read the actual book myself.
On the 8th April 1999, 15-year old Kevin Khatchadourian murdered seven students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker at his high school. His mother Eva, trying to move on in her life almost two years after the event, visits him in prison despite herself. In a series of letters to her ex-husband Franklin Eva tells the story of Kevin's upbringing- from their decision to have a child right up to the fateful day in which her life is changed for good...
Whilst it took me a few pages to get deeply invested in the book at first, from about the time Eva began narrating her pregnancy I became intrigued. The layout of the 'We Need To Talk about Kevin' takes of the form of long letters in which Eva talks honestly about both her past and present life. The format characterises both Eva and Franklin perfectly and despite only knowing one side of their story I felt all the characters were presented in depth. As well as discussing Kevin's particular story, Eva talks about the various issues surrounding 'Thursday', as she calls it: school shootings (Kevin's happened only a few months before Columbine and was during a wave of such within the space of two years), the reasons behind the murderous rampages and, the biggest issue, whether Kevin's actions are the result of being evil from birth or Eva's reluctant raising of him.
Eva herself is presented as a woman whom I could sympathize with, if not completely like or understand, and I feel this is something which is reflected in her prose. Formerly a careerwoman used to travelling around the world for months on end, she is not happy to stay in America to raise a child but does it for the sake of her husband's wish for a family. It does not help things when Kevin appears to be disobedient and unruly even from birth, giving teachers, babysitters and other children no end of alarming problems which Eva attributes to Kevin's "wickedness". At first I was confused as to why Kevin appeared to be the spawn of Satan...then I remembered that Shriver is writing through Eva's POV, and that whether Kevin really is a monster or not is left up to the reader's interpretation. Furthermore, there is an excellent plot twist late into the book which I really did not see coming and greatly changes Eva's reliability as a narrator.
As I said, the other characters are presented from Eva's POV but that doesn't mean they do not have depth. Franklin is a well-meaning but ignorant husband who is pretty much the opposite of Eva in personality. He refuses to see his son as a nothing more than a regular boy to the point of driving a wedge in their relationship. Personally I found his denial of his son's behaviour frustrating, which meant I connected with Eva all the better. As for Kevin, he came across as completely evil and not right in the head, even worse than a cartoon villain in that he has not a shred of decency in him. From deliberately staying in nappies until he's about six years old to doing some nasty things to his younger sister, Celia (whom Eva surprisingly dotes on)... the fact he demonstrates such behaviour even as a toddler makes him creepier, but it only gets worse from there until that 'Thursday'.
Generally speaking, the story is paced well and I liked how Eva reflected on her present state of affairs before flashing back to her recap of Kevin's upbringing, so that it feels like you are reading real letters. Some of the most poignant moments are when she reflects on the nature of school shootings, why the perpetrators do it etc...because each time she has to compare it to the actions of her own son, who appears to have no reason why he did it other for the attention the media gave him.
'We Need to Talk about Kevin' is a harrowing story and a chilling look into the debate of 'Nature vs Nurture' with regard to mass killings in society. I very much enjoyed both reading it and formulating my own interpretation of events due to the book's ambivalence. Who knows, this might be one of those books which future A-Level English Literature students have to study in such detail they can't enjoy them, but this is definitely an intelligent book that can be read for pleasure alone.
We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver covers an unfortunately contemporary subject with clinically accurate observations: a high-school massacre in America. The narrative of the book is excellently written; the structure is well-suited.
The plot takes the reader through the most important decision of the main characters' life, whether or not to have a child and the consequences. As the book begins we are introduced to the character of Eva, who pre-motherhood was a successful businesswoman and happily married. I found the first chapter a little slow the first time I read it, but in hindsight it fits perfectly and adds immensely to character understanding. The real beauty of this book is the unrivalled honesty with which Shriver deals with such sensitive topics as motherhood and marriage, as well as the literary prowess which allows the author to bring unexpected twists in the climax of the narrative.
The book is written as letters from Eva to her estranged husband, Franklin, which allows an incredibly intimate insight into her most sensitive feelings. The estrangement gives the letters an explicit sincerity which adds to the intimacy of the novel.
The characterisation is second to none (of the other books I have read - and I quite like reading). By the end of the novel the characters are multi-faceted yet believable. The twists leave the reader unsure of how trustworthy Eva really is, giving the work a dubiety which is apt for the controversial feelings it examines.
Overall, this book is certainly worth buying, because having read it a number of times myself, I find that it makes you think about a different aspect of the story each time, which is the gift of a truly well written book.
I saw the film version of this book last year in the cinema and was absolutely stunned. The film is provocative, interesting and made me think deeply about parenthood and the role it plays in a child's development. I absolutely fell in love with it and knew I had to go back and read the book. I actually prefer to read the book after I've seen the film. I find that if I read the book first I pick holes in the film (My sisters keeper...) and it makes me hate the film. If I have seen the film first it actually really helps me to visualise and it also means I end up loving the film and also loving the book. The film is also a really good indication for me of whether I will enjoy the book as I know if the plot line appeals to my sensibilities as a reader.
Watching the film first I was slightly worried about reading the book because there is a big reveal at the end of the film which is hinted at throughout but also totally shocking. To some extent I suppose reading the book without knowing the plot twist might have enhanced my reading of it but I actually really enjoyed reading the book and knowing what was coming, it helped me to see little hints and nuances in the writing which indicated the terrible events that were to come.
The novel was written in 2003 by Lionel Shriver and was her seventh novel. It was nominated and subsequently won the Orange Prize in 2005 and has sold consistently well both in the USA and the UK. I know about the book because of my job as a bookseller in a well known high street book shop but without knowing the plot had never considered reading it. I know, from reviews of her books, that Shriver's writing tends to be very dark and explorative in nature and I think she has a really unique perspective on modern life.
The book is written about a fictional school shooting and is from the perspective of the perpetrator's mother, Eva Khatchadourian. The book is written in the form of letters, each making up a chapter, which are written to Eva's husband Franklin following the incident in which Kevin was involved. You don't find out initially that it is a school shooting in which he killed other students, though the details are slowly revealed. In her letters Eva reminisces about her relationship with her husband, her decision to have a child, her experiences with raising Kevin and ultimately tries to dissects the reasons behind his behaviour. The letters are incredibly candid and self-critical, in a very honest and brave way she tries to examine what went wrong along the way and discover how she can comes to terms with the trauma she feels following the incident.
Eva is a modern working woman who owns her own travel guide company, 'A Wing and a Prayer' dubbed AWAP by her husband. She considers at length whether to have children and after long and fraught discussions with her husband, Frankin, they decide to have a child. Eva openly admits that part of her reasoning is to do this for Franklin, he quite clearly loves children and though he would go without them for Eva it is obvious that he craves the fatherly bond with a child. Eva has never really felt the same about motherhood, she felt no inherent desire to have children and loved her freedom and travel which she believed would be hindered. She also openly admits she hated her pregnancy, the swelling feeling in her stomach and the restrictions it placed upon her lifestyle. This very natural and beautiful phenomenon is anything but for Eva, she forms no connection to the unborn foetus that will be her child and here stems the problems with Kevin.
When Kevin is born she looks down at this tiny little baby and feels nothing. She expected to feel this momentous surge of maternal love, but it never came. Whether this is down to post-natal depression or simply a manifestation of Eva's frustration with her pregnancy and long labour is unclear, but right from the start she doesn't bond with Kevin. She stays at home whilst Franklin goes out to work and becomes increasingly detached from Kevin. She does not enjoy her maternal duties and finds every day a struggle. Franklin is unsympathetic and Kevin is so exhausted from an entire day of crying that by the time his father returns he sleeps angelically in his crib. Franklin just doesn't believe Eva's stories and interprets her frostiness toward Kevin as a lack of love and a high level of impatience inappropriately directed as his new born son.
As the plot line progresses and the years go on things only become worse. Eva is eventually forced to move to the suburbs, into a large modern house which Franklin chooses without her and which she hates quite openly. When she tries to make her stamp on it by papering the walls of her study with maps Kevin decimates her hours of hard work by splattering ink all over the walls. Eva is angered and hurt by his behaviour towards her, which often seems malicious and premeditated even at this young age, and his sweet nature he has with his father. Eva interprets this as forced and acted by Kevin, and this only becomes stronger in her mind as he grows older.
Eventually Eva decides to have another child, quite against Franklin's protestations. She essentially tricks him into it and he is angered by this, declaring the new baby her and Kevin's his if only in his behaviour. When Celia is born Eva suddenly feels the surge of love and the strong maternal bond that has been missing all along from her relationship with Kevin. Kevin and Celia are also complete opposites, she is sweet natured and kind and loves to play with her mother. She is inherently trusting and is often tricked and treated cruelly by Kevin who she always returns to despite his horrible behaviour. Under Kevin's care Celia manages to get hold of some noxious chemicals and in what is a supposed accident blinds herself and scars her face quite severely. Eva never gets to the end of what really happened, though she is convinced that Kevin has some part of play in Celia's accident. Kevin denies this and even attempts to blame his mother as she had been using the chemicals and he claims she left them out within Celia's reach.
These flashes of the past are interspersed with Eva's details of her current situation. She has had to sell AWAP and now works for a travel agents doing a job which she is hugely over qualified for. She has struggled to find work and everybody in the town she lives in, knowing what her son has done and blaming her, either shuns her or openly attacks her. She lives with the guilt and trauma of what has happened everyday, and find solace in writing to her estranged husband. As the book progresses slowly more and more shocking details of the incident are revealed and there is also a jaw dropping twist which will definitely catch out most readers.
The writing in this book is extremely skilled and, despite knowing what happens, I literally could not put it down. I was absolutely drawn in my Eva's story and her struggle to come to terms with what her song has done and her role in it. What I think is really interesting is that as the storyteller the reader often questions whether they can trust Eva and whether her version of events is completely honest to what really happened. I think you have to assume it isn't, and in doing so it makes you wonder how much of what Kevin did is really her fault. There certainly is an interesting debate of nature and nurture in this book, is Kevin born this way and destined to kill as he does? is it even possible for someone to be born evil? Is Eva responsible and in part culpable for never bonding with Kevin? Is Kevin simply a product of bad parenting and lack of maternal bond? These, among many other, are the questions that this book raises so eloquently and effortlessly. Shriver never asks these questions outright, but merely plants the seeds of doubt in the readers mind and leaves you wondering who and what you can trust.
This book is controversial, never before has there been such an honest and hard hitting examination of motherhood. I think there is a slight taboo in society when it comes to neglectful mothers. It is unthinkable for a mother to not bond with her child whilst we blindly accept this from men who are seen to be able to totally detach themselves from a child's life without a second thought. I don't think either of these stereotypes are true. There are most certainly mothers who struggle to find their maternal feelings and fathers who could never contemplate leaving their child. Shriver herself does not have any children and has been heavily criticised for writing a book about parenting when she has no real life experience. But, this is literally every mother's worst nightmare and probably in part what has prevented Shriver from committing to motherhood as Eva did in the book.
The book costs £7.99 from all good book shops, though you may find it on offer. It can be found cheaper online though I urge you to make intelligent choices about where you shop for books as the life expectancy of the high street book store is ever decreasing. For me this book is well worth the price I paid for it, and I hope I can make the time in a couple of years to read it again because I found it simultaneously enjoyable and harrowing (the mark of a great book, in my opinion).
The final product is truly shocking and evocative. The story will forever reverberate in my mind as one of those great, powerful and thought provoking books which changes your outlook on everything.
- Spoilers! -
I cannot write about this book without giving away certain plot points, slightly more than the blurb, so if you don't want the book spoilt, please don't carry on reading. Sorry.
I have been a big reader for years, but now in the summer holiday I have been conquering my reading list, and We Need to Talk about Kevin. I first saw this book in my local bookstore, and with a film still from the movie, it looked very interesting and reading the blurb and the last paragraph (weird habit, I know!) made me more interested in the book.
My version of the book has a film still on the front, which starred Tilda Swinton, and the cover was coloured red, blue and dark tones, which really reflect the mood the book seems to portray. The front cover almost looks sinister. The information on the blurb gives hints at what the book is about, a murder rampage and the problems a mother has dealing with her sons actions, but the blurb hints that there are themes deeper than that. On the back there are several very good reviews from papers in the UK, which make the books seem more enticing.
- Author -
The author of We Need to Talk about Kevin is Lionel Shriver, who I had never heard before buying the book, but she has written several books including, The Female of the Species, Ordinary Decent Criminals and The Post- Birthday World. She has also written in several newspapers. We Need to Talk about Kevin also won the Orange Prize in 2005. We Need to Talk About Kevin was made into a feature film in 2011, and current on DVD sale in the UK.
- Synopsis -
The book begins with Eva reflecting about her feelings before the birth of Kevin, to her husband, Frankin. It begins fairly upbeats with talking about their relationships and their travels throughout the world, she talks with such love and passion. There is obvious character profiles beginning of both Eva and Franklin, which grips the reader. Then Eva decides to have a child, which to me feels like she has to tick it off her list before it's too, but no real love for wanting kids, maybe that's normal? There are references to what Kevin will do in the future, with Eva repeating writing "Thursday".
When Kevin is born, there are hints of how he is a problem child, but as he gets older his behaviour turns into more serious and potentially psychopathic behaviour. The character of Kevin begins to be built as a problem from birth, which hints at the big debate about nature or nurture, can he really be born evil? Although I do begin to that Eva was neglectful of Kevin, especially as a young child, even physically abusing him. Did this make him evil? Is he evil?
The story is non-liner, which gives the story a disjointed, almost chaotic feel to the story, almost like what of must happened during the incident, it gives more depth of feeling throughout. During the story, there are several events, which hint at Kevin's mental state but also Eva's mental state, especially after physically abusing Kevin. Frankin is given a lot of detail by Eva, about how he felt and how he acted about Kevin, being much more caring and accepting to Kevin's behaviour, but Eva notices Kevin is often playing games, even from a young age. Celia was then born out of Eva needing to connect to her child, and although a minor character, Eva references her a lot in the book, especially toward the day of the crime, giving the reader more chance to love Celia like Eva did.
The hints of what Kevin does happen quite early, with references to Eva going through the court system because a parent of a deceased child claims she was neglectful to Kevin. I do get hints of neglect, but also sheer frustration at being a parent, is it always this hard? Also during the early stages of the book, Eva visited Kevin in jail, mainly cold and tension filled visits, giving the reader real suspense and horror at what Kevin does.
During the last few letter there is real detail about the build-up to the crime Kevin commits and the sheer planning he seems to have put into the crime. The hints at Eva and Frankin's divorce, Celia's accident and how Kevin is acting towards the world. The detail of the actual mass murder was superbly written, as it could of so easily been focused to much on the gore of the crime, but the idea that Eva never saw the events gives a bigger chill. It was detailed, with emotions running throughout, which gives it more of a human view rather than a factual look. Also the ending reflecting the why and the unknown of the crime, and Kevin's change in personality really gives the book a final end.
- Structure -
The structure of this book was very unique, it was written via latters from Eva to her husband, Franklin. I feel this different way to write gives the book a much easier flow to it, and gives hints to further twists in the story, which adds to the suspense of the story. The letters are sent mostly 3 or 4 days apart, but sometimes there are bigger gaps, this gives a decent sized chapter, but again helps the flow from letter to letter.
I feel the letters from Eva help the reader to get more involved in the book, to me it feels like I might be Franklin, and I can feel how Eva feels, almost like you connect better to both of the characters, as she describes her feelings, and although you never read a reply from Franklin, you can imagine what his personality is and how he feels during the book.
- My opinions -
The main pull in the book for me was the range of issues raised, from the American domino effect in high school massacres, featuring comments on the Columbine massacre and weapon control in the USA, but also can be referenced in the UK, with violent crimes over here. Also the biggest issue, especially for me, is motherhood, although I'm not a mother yet, one day I will be and it scares me that how I raise a child could have such a serious consequences and like Eva, I felt I wasn't born to be a mother and currently have no urge to be a mother now, does that mean I never will have these feelings? This book is a wonderful dive into real human feelings and needs.
I would highly recommend this book for anyone into complex issues and looking at the cores of human needs. The book was excellently written and the development of character was progressive and griping, especially the relationship with Eva and Franklin. This books defiantly absorbs you into the story and into the characters. One of my favourites.
We Need to Talk about Kevin is available at most book stores and costs around £7.99, but will be cheaper on Amazon.
I debated writing this review as there is already 35 already and i wasn't sure what i could add but as 'We need to talk about Kevin' i thought i might as well join in.
Firstly, a disclaimer, it isn't possible for me to discuss the novel without mentioning what 'the incident' is. It's mentioned in most reviews and on retail websites anyway but if you don't want to know or don't know what i'm talking about i would stop reading now.
If you've been living on Mars for the last year, i will inform you that the book is now a film. I highly recommend reading the book first (See my separate review of the film).
Eva Khatchadourian writes a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, after her son, Kevin, commits a killing spree at school (Aka 'the incident'). In the letters she tries to come to terms with what has happened and the impact it has had on her life along with reminiscing on various memories from the past including her relationship with Franklin, her experience of being pregnant, and her developing relationship with Kevin and her daughter, Celia. The memories act as a mechanism for flashbacks to explain the back story and provide further insight thereby the narrative is not straight forward and chronological. The novel still manages to retain a thrill element however with twists and turns that you may not see coming, I won't say more as i don't want to give too much away. The story is not as straight forward as one would think.
Eva is very much the central character, the story is told from her perspective in her own words. It serves as an excellent tool to truly get inside her head, which Shriver does well. She is not the most likable character which can make for difficult reading in some places but that's what makes the novel so powerful. Eva is presented as a cold, self-righteous and self-involved women who seems to lack maternal instincts (At some points i was shouting at her, something i normally only do at characters on TV). Her relationship with and feelings towards Franklin and Celia as well as her desire to be elsewhere also further expand her character, is not only Kevin who she is detached from. All other characters, including Kevin, are seen through the eyes of Eva and her memory of events therefore it did leave me questioning how much about the other characters we really know, other than the bare facts, as the story is the world according to Eva. The secrets that she confesses to Franklin do suggest honesty yet all opinions (Including this one) present some bias. To quote a Barlow/Williams song, "Well there's three versions of this story, yours and mine and then the truth". Truth is a conceptual concept. This book reminds you of that.
The book does take some effort to read, mostly i think due to the character of Eva. The genius of this however is that it makes Eva far more complex and dynamic that a sympathetic character who is another victim of her son's psychotic behavior. Exactly how much did the relationship between Eva and her son contribute to what Kevin became? Did her detachment contribute towards Kevin's? Are children born Evil? What's the cost of 'the American dream'? Would Kevin had turned out different if he'd experienced a strong bond as an infant and been challenged more? Was Kevin and evil genius or just a genius channeling his ability in the wrong areas? Do preconceived notions of how we and others should behave in stereotypical roles (Mother, Child, Father) dictate our actions and behavior? What impact does this have on others if we try to fit them in our mold? There may never be answers to these questions, who knows why people kill or take enjoyment in the pain of others. This novel does not answer questions, it poses them and it's refreshing to another side other than "The child was an outcast so he picked up a gun", "Blame Manson", "Violent movies", "Peer pressure". Kevin complements psychological research (Attachment theory, google John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Philip Shaver, Mary Target) but brings it into the mass media so that we can... well.. talk about it (Clever book title huh Shiver, it worked).
As I've said, the book takes some effort and seems a lot longer than it is (At 496 pages) but it is worth it. I found that as the book was written in letter form it was easier to read several letters at a time. It's the type of book that you can leave and come back to. I found that the effort was rewarded in the end (All i have to admit i skimmed a few of Eva's over self-indulgent moments).
I hadn't heard of Lionel Shiver until now. We need to talk about Kevin won him the 2005 Orange Prize and it's clear to see why. I think he has a knack of allowing the reader to get into the character's heads. Kevin was Shiver's 8th novel and he's had three more published since so the verdict is out until i read some more of his work. Kevin could have been a fluke, we'll see.
Publisher Profile Books Ltd (United Kingdom)
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
To be quite honest I bought this book with a very open mind and extremely high expectations. I had seen the advertisement for the film last year, and I had heard great reviews about it (the film that is). My friend saw it and said it was his best film of the year (and he has seen A LOT OF FILMS) so I thought I would buy the book first and wait for it to come on DVD as I generally prefer reading the books first.
I bought this book about 4 months ago and was quite disappointed. I have literally only just finished reading it! I was aware of the concept of the book, Kevin being quite a troubled son, having committed a massacre attack at his school on students and teachers (known in the book as 'Thursday') and the fragmented relationship between mother and son prior to the incident (calling in "incident" lightly!). The book is orchestrated in chapters as a series of letters from the mum Eva Khatchadourian to her ex husband Franklin, the father of Kevin. Kevin is always described as a cold, unemotional sociopath and her letters to Franklin attempt to uncover Eva's guilt as a mother and her relationship with Kevin and how things came to be how they turned out.
My personal opinion of the book was that it was very slow, and it is not one of those books I just couldn't put down. In all honesty, I literally only carried on reading it as I was determined to persevere and get through it as I hate half reading a book. It doesn't have an effect to keep the reader gripped, and I find in some chapters, Lionel Shriver's attempt to convey deep emotion from Eva just don't have as much effect as I'd hoped.
Without spoiling the ending, I will say it does pick up a bit, and there is a twist on the letters and the relationship between mother and son does reach a conclusion. But I would probably advise anyone to simply watch the film as that's what I am about to do, and would have saved myself months of time and read something slightly more interesting.
Received this for Christmas from my son after it was highly recommended to me by a work colleague. I'm not going to go into too much plot detail as I'd hate to spoil anything for those yet to read it, but the basic info (which is on the back cover so it's not giving anything away) is that it's the story of an American mother, Eva, whose son, Kevin, has murdered seven high school students and two members of staff in a murderous rampage, and of how she tries to come to terms with what he has done by analysing her own parenting role. This is played out throughout a series of letters to Kevin's father.
Lionel Shriver offers a well crafted book which unfolds gently (given that right from the start the reader already knows what the 'issue' is between Eva and Kevin because his murderous rampage has already occurred). However gently it unfolds though, every word is purposeful - as Eva examines her own role, the reader gains insight into both Eva and her husband as individuals, as a couple and as parents, all of which appear to either feed into, or be red herrings in the big question of 'what went wrong?'
This is a brilliant book for a book club because there is lots to discuss from chapter to chapter or across character to character. If you're in the UK, don't be put off by the fact that it is set in the USA - the questions of nature / nurture and parenting that it raises are still shockingly relevant.
Additionally, you don't have to be a parent to gain the full impact of this book (although I think any mother reading this experiences a whole extra layer of meaning from the story). Part of the skill of this book is that it allows anyone who has knowledge of children (whether from their own childhood, their own children or someone else's) to bring their own experiences into the 'nature or nurture' debate which is essentially played out throughout the story. This is an extremely well written and highly recommended book.
* I am also publishing this review on Ciao under my user-name PlaysNicelyWithOthers :-)
I read We Need To Talk About Kevin on the recommendation of a friend, and thought that it might not be that great a book as I had read previous works by Lionel Shriver like the Post Birthday World and couldn't stand them. But seeing as We Need To Talk About Kevin had got so many reviews about what an amazing read it was, I decided to give it a try. It's around £8 from Waterstones, but you can get it cheap from Amazon for around £1.50.
I am unsure as to what to class We Need To Talk About Kevin as, as there are so many possibilities. It could be a thriller, a look into a murderer's profile, drama or an investigation into whether mother figures can change their child's persona, and whether their actions lead to positive or negative actions.
Written in first person by Eva Khatchadourian, the story of Kevin is told through a series of letters sent to Eva's absent husband Franklin. Throughout these letters we are able to see Kevin and his life unfold before us from Eva's perspective, and her feelings about everything he did. Sometimes she tends to go away from the point that she is talking about, and this leads to her discussing other points that are not as significant to the plot as others, but Shriver makes them as descriptive and detailed as the important features of the book.
Eva never falls away from the truth when she is writing her letters to her husband, and is so frank and honest within them. This might seem odd, as you would think that writing to her estranged husband, she would try and pad out the truth slightly so she is not as cold as she is perceived in the book. For example, from the first chapter we see how her life is before parenting Kevin. As soon as she becomes pregnant Kevin, we see how her life becomes a downward spiral. She herself questions her parenting, however she never thought it would lead to what she calls "Thursday".
Thursday was the day that Kevin attacked his school in a school shooting after his 16th birthday. The moment that he did this changed the family she had raised and been a part of lives and is what the main story leads up to and discusses. It is no secret throughout the book that this is eventually what Kevin does.
From the moment Kevin is born, we see how Eva's parenting is immediately put into question. This is definitely one of the main themes of the book, as to whether it really was her fault as to whether Kevin turned out the way he did. Her personality and actions could definitely raise some questions about parenting styles, as she is generally the strictest of the pair and never really seems to have the mother-son connection.
We see her discussing all the parts of Kevins childhood up till the point that he becomes a teenager. It is clear from the beginning that Kevin is not a typical child. He clearly has no caring for his mother, and often acts out in events like destroying her prized room and others, which you'll have to read the books to find out about. However, he seems to have no problem with his father, who seems to be quite friendly with him and the pair seem to get along well. This also seems to be an issue that sticks with Eva as she doesn't understand why he can't be like that with her.
In some ways you can't help but feel sorry for Eva, as you see her wonder what she has even done wrong in the first place to have a child like Kevin, and if it was her parenting herself that led her to have a manipulating son like Kevin. Throughout the book she wonders if it was simply nature or her nurturing that led to him doing such an awful thing, and she constantly argues with herself if it was her fault or it wasn't.
Kevin himself is a manipulative person even from a young age, and the book really does portray him as someone who likes plotting and takes pleasure in hurting others. Throughout the book, Kevin does varioud things that just make you question - Why? It seems like there are no explanations for the things he does, and this adds to the overall questionning of the book, as throughout you wonder if he really did all those things on purpose or not.
Shrivers writing style really shines in We Need To Talk About Kevin, and I think she has really exceeded herself amongst the other books she has written. They are not similar at all to the others, and is much more thrilling and compelling. Within We Need To Talk About Kevin, she really grasped the ability to keep the reader interested and compelled enough within the characters to find out more.
From the moment I started reading We Need To Talk About Kevin I couldn't put it down, as every chapter just kept adding more and more to this thriller that made you want to find out the ever present question - Why? I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in a book that raises many questions, while maintaining a strong writing style with enough detail and description to keep you interested and reading, which definitely makes it worthy of being five stars.
Author - Lionel Shriver
Publisher - Serpents tail classics
Pages - 468
Accolades - Winner of the Orange Prize 2005
Genre - Fiction
RRP - £7.99
We need to talk about Kevin follows the story of Eva, an independent woman who never really wanted a child but found herself the mother of a boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. Unable to deal with the sacrificies of being a mother, Eva wonders whether her dislike for her own son is what led him to commit such terrible crimes or was he just bad from the very beginning?
Written as a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin who never understood why she hated their son so, this book is chilling, unsettling and offers an entirely different perspective on what it means to be a mother. Eva finds herself going through the motions to save public face but inside she is a woman in turmoil.
On the one hand, the novel explores the responsibilities of parenthood and on the other, blows the reader out of the water with a nightmarish possibility of a child who can do no right. The novel jumps between the present and past, showing the reader how Eva struggles to deal with her unwanted fame in the community and how it all began. Throughout the book I find myself struggling to decide where my sympathies lie as Eva's horrific mothering skills are contrasted to Kevin's inherent need to be bad.
Though the book is slow going at times, I kept reading as the plot line was so intriguing it was worth sticking around for. The characters may not be likeable as such as they are all full of flaws, this however is what makes them interesting and the plot so gripping. After reading this book, I have seriously reconsidered the possibility of having children for fear of what the outcome may be.
The fact that the novel is written as a series of letters makes it feel more personal as Eva pours her heart out on paper in a way she could never do in words when her husband was with her. Sometimes Eva comes across as sensitive and other times a completely selfish witch. There are multi layers to this novel meaning it can be interpreted in many different ways. Reading the book it is impossible not to have an opinion on the characters and their situation and wondering whether you would have done the same. The characters grow and develop throughout the story, and as we learn more about their history the novel earns more depth.
Now adapted for screen starring Tilda Swinton this is a novel that has been thrust deservedly into the spotlight and it is definitely worth a read. Thought provoking and controversial, this is definitely a book I would recommend to others, if only to see their reaction to it.
The greatest praise I can heap on this book is that as soon as I had finished it, I wanted to lend it to a friend so I had someone to discuss it with. Unfortunately, the person I gave it to struggled with the first few chapters and is yet to get any further. Suffice to say, it isn't an easy read and won't appeal to everyone, although I personally loved it.
The basic plot of the novel is the story of an American high-school massacre, as told by the perpetrators mother, Eva. The story consists of her letters to her estranged husband, concerning our title character, their son Kevin. Due to the non-linear structure of the novel, we simultaneously learn of Eva and Franklins early relationship and Eva's current existence as a pariah living alone, but it is not until later that we discover the events that occurred in between.
A major question raised by the novel is the nature vs. nurture debate, that is, who is to blame for atrocities like these? This is never conclusively answered in the novel, nor I expect, in real life. Eva is a typical Shriver creation. She is strong, opinionated, and, often, downright unlikable. Thus we are never sure how much we can trust her as she describes various incidents through her son's early years. The story of Kevin's childhood is told through Eva's letters, and from birth he is described as being, well, difficult. It is clear that mother and son share a volatile relationship, but it also seems that they are very much alike in character, and they identify with each other. The relationship between Kevin and his father, on the other hand, is quite different. Outwardly, Kevin admires Franklin, but it is suggested that inwardly he views him with contempt. Later, Eva and Franklin have a little girl, Celia. She is sweet and vulnerable, very much like her father, but is the favourite of her mother.
I feel that this book asks all sorts of questions about our society, but it answers none, thus inviting us to do just as the title asks us to; talk.
I remember trying to read 'We need to talk about Kevin' several years ago but I found it very difficult to get into and gave up after a few chapters. With the recent movie release my sisters, who have both read the book, wanted to go to the cinema to watch this. I don't like watching films based on books if I haven't read the book myself as I like to form my own ideas and images in my head and not be influenced by someone else's interpretation of the story. I therefore decided to give the book another go and downloaded a copy for my Kindle for £3.79.
'We need to talk about Kevin' is a haunting book that tells the tale of a dysfunctional family. The book is written in the form of a series of letters penned by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin. In these she has an open and frank discussion with Franklin about their son Kevin, his childhood and the events leading up to Thursday, where their lives are changed forever when Kevin goes on a meticulously planned killing spree at his school, leaving 7 students and 2 staff members dead.
Eva recalls life before Kevin was born - carefree days where she was able to focus on her career, jet setting all over the world as a travel writer and where she and Franklin could just have fun. Eva never really wanted to have children - she never really had that maternal instinct. Franklin however was keen to start a family and Eva, convincing herself that motherhood would be another adventure like the trips to far flung places, agrees. When Eva falls pregnant she felt quite apprehensive, which I suppose any new mother would, but Eva is in some ways filled with dread. She feels the enormity of the task of raising a child and questions whether she will be able to fulfil her role as a mother.
Once Kevin was born Eva recalls how she was never really able to bond with him yet Franklin seemed to have a really 'buddy, buddy' relationship with Kevin. Even when Kevin was quite young Eva had concerns about him and his development. He seemed withdrawn, uninterested in the world and emotionally devoid. As he grows up Kevin takes great pleasure at annoying Eva as if by doing so he is one up on her. Whenever Eva voices her concerns about Kevin to Franklin or challenges Kevin about his behaviour Franklin brushes aside her concerns, refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem and accusing Eva of always seeing the worst in him. I found Franklin to be quiet a naïve person in this respect and Kevin played on this so that Franklin always saw the better side of him. In this way we are shown that Kevin is quite cold and calculating but also quite intelligent.
The fact that Franklin would always undermine Eva's authority really annoyed me. In fact his whole 'lovey dovey' attitude to parenting annoyed me! He has this idyllic view of parenthood and really doesn't take Eva's feelings into consideration and how much she has given up to have a family. In some ways though I thought his character was a bit too naïve and I find it hard to believe that he failed to notice any problems in Kevin's behaviour.
Eva is brutally honest in her letters. She questions whether the fact that she was unable to bond with her son early on or that she returned to work when Kevin was quite young led to Kevin turning out the way that he did. Were warning signs there and could they have prevented the events of Thursday? Or was Kevin just someone that was born evil? Is that possible? It's the whole nature versus nurture argument. I found myself sympathising with her to some extent particularly due to the lack of support from Franklin, however at the same time I could also see her flaws and at times she appeared to come across as quite selfish.
I found the tone of the letters quite monotonous and some were really quite long. As I explained earlier, this was a book I found quite hard to get into but after reading around a third of the book I was totally engrossed and I am glad that I persevered. As the letters progressed I found myself wondering why Franklin hadn't responded to any of them and given his side of the story. I also found myself getting increasingly angry with him for bucking his responsibility and leaving Eva to face the music. However when the real reason for their estrangement was revealed I was completely shocked - I really did not see that one coming!
The story as a whole was quite chilling and Kevin's character was particularly disturbing and one that I shall remember for a while to come. I found some of the ideas and questions raised in the book about the approach to parenting and the relationship you have with your children quite thought provoking. I can't see myself reading this again as it was just a little too depressing but I do think it's a book that everyone should read at least once.
This book is not a light read, the first third is extremely heavy going, but as you read more of it you begin to appreciate the importance of all the little tedious domestic details. I bought this when it first came out and have been having heated conversations about it ever since. The great question is: who is to blame? The book has so many layers, all of which overlap each other, that everyone who reads it seems to have a different opinion. The twist also came as a surprise.
The book is written from the perspective of a mother whose son commits mass murder at his High School. Therefore, everything is seen from her side and is subjective. The question is how far we trust her recollection of events and whether we agree with her interpretations? Was Kevin born evil or disturbed, or was he a product of his environment?
But don't expect the answers, one of the things which makes this book great is that it successfully reflects that perpetual human question of 'what if?'
The novel "We need to talk about Kevin," by Lionel Shriver beautifully tackles the intriguing yet horrifying nature of people that murder.
Real life coverage of American high school shootings is morbidly fascinating but we can never really understand what drives a young person to this. We are left to draw our own conclusions, was the person bullied at school? Did they have social problems not addressed by teachers or parents? Or did they simply not like Mondays? Lionel Shriver narrates a story from a mother's point of view in the form of a series of letters to her estranged husband. The story relates the life of her son from before his birth right up until after the killing he orchestrates in his school. This presents the reader with the opportunity to draw a more informed conclusion on what factors drive a person to kill. The main focus of the book is the question of whether nature or nurture is the main factor. This book is interesting from many different angles. In a literary sense, Shriver's writing is descriptive, powerful and thought provoking. In a biological sense, is it possible two children in one family can have the same parents and outside influences and yet be so different? For anyone who is interested in human nature then this book is ideal. The writing from the mother's point of view is also very interesting, should she be blamed for how Kevin turned out? Or praised for the way her daughter turned out? To what extent should the parent be portrayed as the villain for having a child who commits murder?
Brilliantly written, this cleverly weaved story with twists and turns throughout will have you both compelled and horrified and leave you considering the question of nature and nurture. After many times reading this book and excited for the film I still don't know the answer - if you figure it out please let me know!