29 Sep 2010

"We need to talk about Kevin" - Why?

When "We Need to Talk about Kevin" was published few years ago, it stirred up a lot of hype and the author Lionel Shriver became a celebrity in the literary world. I think all that hype scared me a bit, at least I never got around to reading the book. Maybe I was also scared of the epistolary form, something I am normally a bit repelled by. Not sure why. But the other day I felt like I really should read it and my curiousity won over my scepticism about the form. Luckily. Because this book is seriously good! An absolute classic.

The story is one, we know only too well. A boy brings a weapon to school and kills both school children, a teacher and a canteen worker. This leaves his mother, Eva, with the big question. Why?
Eva tells the story from her point of view in a series of letters to her estranged husband. It is a mother's anguished feelings put on display and Eva honestly and openly confesses that actually she never wanted Kevin in the first place and when he came into her life, she never warmed to him. Eva's story about Kevin is that he is inherently evil, a child that does everything to wex or hurt her.
However, Eva is not a reliable narrator. Her story obviously differs from the way her husband sees the family and she is biased in her interpretations of Kevin's actions.
It is a moving, disturbing, beautiful story.

The book raises several questions about parenting. It is the classic nature versus nurture dilemma. Does Keving go on a killing spree because he is inherently evil? Or because life has dealt him a tough hand and he is shaped by being brought up by a cold, loveless mother?
"We Need to Talk about Kevin" does not offer answers, only questions and the reader is left with the ultimate questios: why? Only one questions is actually answered: why did this book win the Booker Prize? Because it is a very very good book, beautifully written with a strong story.


  1. This book sounds awesome to me. I love the epistolary style, so for me, that would be an added bonus.

  2. This is one of my all-time favorite. It's such a disturbing book, but it's so good!

  3. Hi Willa--I've very tardily just seen your comment on the Slaves of Golconda blog, and I hope you might be reading along with us next month. I was wondering if you'd like an invite to the Slaves blog so you can post on it when we all start talking about May Sarton's book? If so, please send me an email with your email address and I will get one out to you! (I'm at danielle_torres@hotmail.com). Also, thanks for including me in your blog roll--I know you've left comments on my blog which I always appreciate--I will (also belatedly) add you to mine and to my google reader so I can keep up with your posts. I also love The Count of Monte Cristo and I Capture the Castle--both great reads! Cheers!

  4. I though this was a great book. I even recommended it for my book club. The subject matter is difficult, but it's perfect for discussion. Are some children born bad, or should some women just not have children.

  5. This book was excellent and my first introduction to this author! great review.

  6. Melissa: yes I am going to be recommending it to a lot of friends as well.

    Staci: Thanks, it is really good!