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You NEED to read about Kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Member Name: walsha11
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Date: 17/07/12, updated on 17/07/12 (38 review reads)
Advantages: incredible writing, plot, twist, though provoking
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.
Summary: A book I will read again and hopefully again.