Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I need to talk about we need to talk about Kevin


I finally got round to reading Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin.

First thoughts (excluding preambles such as, who calls their daughter Lionel?) are I'm annoyed I didn't read the damn thing sooner. As is so often the case, I buy vastly more books than I can read (Am I alone in this evil practice? Happily, no), and I bought this particular book over a year ago in Sydney, simply because it won the Orange Prize, which is good enough reason for me.

Anyway, after starting the book twice and being unable to get past the first two pages (more my fault than the book's), I finally persuaded Shana to read it. She loved it and wanted to talk about it. So I read it and my God if it isn't a brilliantly compulsive read.

17-year-old Kevin has slaughtered his fellow students and is now in prison. His mother, Eva, writes letters to her husband Franklin in an attempt to understand what made him do it. Was he driven to it by her inability to love him? Or was he simply born evil?

As we watch Kevin grow up and behave shockingly, we become the only other people in the universe who can see, along with Eva, the truth: that Kevin is a textbook sociopath... or is that just the self-justification of an unreliable narrator?

Shriver makes you turn the pages with that sort of righteous fury common to those novels or films where the protagonist is wrongly accused and can't prove their innocence; except in this case it's his guilt which she can't establish.

From forbidding beginning to appalled end, this is a wonderfully awful novel.

Shriver speaks to John Mullan about the book (but, as they say at the beginning, read the thing first)

9 comments:

killer bob said...

I read this book two or three years ago and I still think about it now, almost daily probably. It's maddening in it's scope and put me, as was clearly its intention, into the uncomfortable position of having to make moral judgements on such a weighty, complex matter. Devastating. And I didn't see the ending coming.

lee said...

I bet it did! Especially if you've got children... (though I'm sure yours is a little darling!)...

Yeah I didn't even know there was an ending that I should see coming...

killer bob said...

There are similarities with the parental guilt thing! The book is definitely on the side of "nature" in the old Nurture vs Nature debate. Re: SRos album cover, I wonder if the reverse of the CD case will have the front view of the band jumping over the central reservation?
Really enjoying the blog.

lee said...

well that's kind of you, mysterious Mr Bob (just who IS that masked killer?).

It turns out that the cover is by "noted visual artist" Ryan McGinley, whom I'm not remotely ashamed to confess that I've never heard of. Is that the band dythink? The one in the distance looked like a woman, though I confess I wasn't looking that hard, and it was a small picture...

killer bob said...

Actually, I don't reckon it is upon not-very-close inspection. The two at the back would pass for band members but unless the two at the front have had a style bypass, it ain't them.

shana_hills said...

KB - you're right in saying that this book stays with you well after you've turned that last page. And subsequently felt like you've been hit by a freight train. Where did that ending come from??! Seems so obvious, and yet....

I only have the distance of a few books since I finished Kevin, but I can imagine that it will continue to haunt me well into the future.

vita said...

i loved this book too lee and talk about it to everyone... wonder if women woud be affected more given all questions about motherhood? i think i would be a mess reading this now with the pregnancy hormones running rife x tory

vita said...

i had a dream the other day that i gave birth the other day to ET and i had to breastfeed it and was totally repulsed!!! same worry?

lee said...

Ha - doesn't the main character describe almost exactly the same feelings when she's given the infant kevin for the first time? \

Not a book to read if you're expecting I feel...