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Yes, we need to talk but first you need to read
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Member Name: sbw80
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Date: 08/06/12, updated on 08/06/12 (19 review reads)
Advantages: Will make you think and talk and talk some more
Disadvantages: Isn't the easiest read in the world
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.
Summary: Thought provoking tale that is very relevant today