Book #9

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian's son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Telling the story of Kevin's upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters.

I first read this book three years ago and it blew me away. Shriver explores the complications and complexities of parental affection in a beautiful, yet damning narrative. Not only that, she provides us with incredibly interesting thoughts on the nature vs. nurture and 'blame the parents' debates which are prevalent in most writings surrounding school shootings and similar tragedies. Three years ago, my opinions and preconceptions on these matters were blown out of the water, and it has happened once again. I loved every single minute of it.

Shriver's first-person narrative in the form of letters is absolutely wonderful. It's written in a retrospective reflectional manner, and our protagonist's feelings are poured onto the pages. As Eva is writing to her husband, there is a constant feeling of voyeurism which I found absolutely delicious. I'm not sure this story could have worked as well through the eyes of any other character - not even Kevin. Although I could not identify with Eva at the beginning of her narrative due to her materialism and high self-regard, her guilt, shame, remorse and self-blame become completely heart-breaking once her feelings are explained in more detail.

Eva is a cold mother who never truly bonds with her son. Going back to the nature/nurture debate, I really believe the book can be read in two ways: either the story of a good, innocent woman who has been damned to raise the devil incarnate through no fault of her own, or the human result of being raised by an uninterested mother who should shoulder the blame as her glacial approach to motherhood was a contribution to the tragedy. I fully believe Shriver meant for the novel to be interpreted in both ways, adding further flames to the nature/nurture debate. The woman is a genius.

Each and every single word on these pages contributes to a deep and plaguing build-up to the grand finale. We know from the beginning of the novel exactly what Kevin has done, and following pages gives us an insight into the victims, their families, and what they were like as people. However, it isn't until the final 100 pages where we find out exactly what took place on the fateful day, and Shriver gives this to us in the same way one would listen to the lyrics of a truly cold and simple song.

The final plot twist in the novel completely took me by surprise, although from discussing the novel with others I realise this will not be the case for everyone. Rereading the novel this time, the twist giving me a new outlook on the narrative, I found the novel even more disturbing, and even more powerful.

It's harrowing, thought-provoking, and absolutely remarkable. One of the quotes in the blurb on the back of my copy describes the book as "a slow magnetic descent into hell that is as fascinating as it is disturbing." I really feel this describes the novel perfectly. It's now a firm favourite of mine, and I would truly urge anyone to read it, despite the fact that some events amongst the pages are particularly difficult to read. This is the only book of Shriver's I have read, and I plan to track down some others to find out if she is as brilliant as I believe her today. Recommendations are very welcome.

9 / 50 books. 18% done!