We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a preview for the movie adaptation of this novel (coming out at the end of this month) which, before, I’d never heard of. The trailer freaked me out in a weird way, where I was also impossibly intrigued. The trailer mentioned that it was based on a book, and oftentimes I can read about things that I couldn’t watch, so I decided to go for it. It was even available at my own library, not inter-library loaning necessary!

The book is a first-person account of the life of a boy named Kevin Khatchadourian, told by his mother in letters to his father, several months after Kevin unleashed fire on his schoolmates at age fifteen. The novel is meant to be an exploration on the nature-versus-nurture question- basically, how much of Kevin’s blow-up was Eva’s fault? Would things have gone differently, had she been a different sort of mother?

The novel is told through a series of letters, and is a pretty good representation of why I’m not fond of novels told through letters. I feel like the way people communicate through letters in novels is not how they do it in real life. Considering that each chapter was a letter, and each chapter could be over twenty pages long, it didn’t feel like Eva was writing letters to be mailed off. It felt like she was writing a novel for an audience of one. At the very end of the book, though, something unpredictable is revealed and it all makes sense. I commend Lionel Shriver, because once I read this final bit, the way Eva was writing felt perfect. There was a reason behind it.

I thought this book was fantastic. Admittedly, it is 400 pages and the first 100 or so weren’t very gripping, it made a complete heel-face turn and was utterly fascinating for the entire rest of the book. I did not want to put it down. I spent far too many nights sitting up thinking, “You are going to be so tired at work in the morning” and not being able to stop.

The message, nature-versus-nurture, is a subtle undertone of the entire thing. It’s never addressed outright, but Eva’s guilt over the events is clear enough to put your mind to it. It’s true that she is not the best mother in the world, but it was also clear, from the moment of birth, that Kevin was not a normal child. It’s hard to say where his nature came from, but where both are involved, the book very neatly refuses to answer this question. At inspection, it feels like there’s nothing much Eva could have done differently. At closer inspection, she really wasn’t a very positive force in Kevin’s life and perhaps being born to a different mother would have changed him.

I enjoyed this book immensely and yes, it is going on my list.

Here’s the trailer that started it all. After reading the book, I’m even more nervous to see the movie, but now I know that I almost definitely will. I can’t let the story go that easily.

Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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