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You need to hear about Kevin.
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Member Name: Anti
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Advantages: Compelling story, excellent characterization, interesting layout.
Disadvantages: A little slow to get into.
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.
Summary: A thought-provoking story on a serious issue within society.