Saturday, 10 December 2011

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

If someone was going to compile a top ten list of perfect book club books (which I’m sure people have) this would surely have to be in the top three.  It’s the kind of novel that you want to immediately discuss with other people. So it’s a great thing that Tea Time with Marce is hosting a discussion on We Need to Talk about Kevin.  Even if you reviewed this ages ago it worth popping your link over on the discussion post.
The novel is made up of the letters sent from Kevin's mother (Eva) to her estranged husband Franklin; they document her memories of Kevin throughout his life, and also her visits to him in prison where he is sent after shooting a number of his classmates. The novel attempts to tackle many issues on parenthood and ends up asking far more questions than it manages to answer. The main question has to surely be, was Kevin born evil or was he a product of his upbringing and his mother’s feelings towards him? Was he a product of nurture vs. nature?
I’m surprised at how much of a page turner this novel proved to be. It was not always the difficult, deep psychological read I expected, sometimes it did not quite read as a thriller but certainly it was plot driven at times and I could certainly see why it has proved such a bestselling if uncomfortable book.
Eva proved a fabulously unreliable narrator; was Kevin really like that as a baby or just Eva’s perception? At first Kevin is described very much like Damien from the omen which I simply could not believe so I found myself questioning Eva’s version of events constantly throughout the novel. I didn’t find myself questioning at the end why Kevin did it but more about the belief in redemption.  I do believe there are crimes that cannot be atoned for but when the end of Kevin’s punishment for his crimes relies heavily on his redemption, Eva is in a position where she is forced to somewhat forgive.
I would recommend this, it might not always be what you expect but it’s worth reading with an open mind and who knows, you might love it or you might hate it but it’s unlikely you will remain indifferent.
Posted by Jess


  1. I should just read this. I've read so much about it over the last couple of years, it seems. I think you're right about it being a good book club book, too.

  2. I read this when I first came out, and I have to admit that I didn't really like it. It was a bit too Freudian for me...

    I'm well aware that I'm in the minority though!

  3. Just went to see the film last week, it was excellent, captures the essence of the book even though it has to contract the details of the story, the performances of Eva and Kevin were just excellent. Like the book it is not something that you would say you enjoyed exactly, as you say the book raises so many more questions, in fact that is almost why it is good because it doesn't try and explain everything, it leaves you asking yourself things and analysing your own reactions. If nothing else it can always make you feel so much better about your own parenting:-)
    thanks for sharing

  4. Great review, I think the questioning yourself was so well done.

    It definitely is a great book club read or even better a read a thon book that you can discuss while your reading it.

    Thanks for mentioning my discussion, don't forget to link up.

  5. A great review Jess. I read this back in 2006 before I had a book review blog, but I remember very well what an emotionally draining read it was. A very intense novel(that could so easily and sadly be a factual account)thought provoking literature indeed. Although it took me a little while to get into the story because of the difficult subject matter, not exactly enjoyable to read about a young boy killing nine people deliberately! It soon became a page turner although a slow read as so much detail in the letters.

    I am not sure how I feel about seeing the film of this!

  6. I was compleltely hysterical at the end of this book - I was just disturbed and I didn't see the end coming at all. Definitely a good book club choice

  7. I started this on audio a few years ago, but put it aside because I didn't like the narrators tone. Keep meaning to try it in print. I'm sure it would make and excellent book club selection!

  8. C.B.James - this is one I had on my shelf for ages and ages, you have to kind of be in the right moods for it you know?

    Sam - I didnt like Cloud Stlas, theres always a minority in these things isn't there?

    Martine - I do actually really want to see the film now although the guy playing the dad looks nothing like I pictured him.

    Marce - Ive linked up!

    Lindy - I do in a funny way want to see the film, Im now quite interested but I wonder how they have done it.

    Becky - I did not see the ending coming at all, I was really shocked.

    Joann - it would keep a group of reader entertained for hours reading this I think!

  9. Lionel Shriver is my favourite author and this book sends chill up my spine. Until today I can't get my mind off the final scene when Eva walked home and saw... you know which one I'm talking about.

    It was for all those reasons that I couldn't bear to watch the movie. Have you?

  10. Yup, another book that I absolutely love. It's an incredible read. Still unsure about going to see the film though. Hmm.

    Still, I read some more things by Shriver, and I'm definitely not a fan. But Kevin was great.

  11. I also read this one before I had a book blog and it just blew me away. I've recommended it to so many people and they always have such different reacions. It's not an easy book, but it makes you think and sucks you in.

    I love what you said about the narrator being unreliable. That's one of the best parts of the book. You want to discuss with others whether it was nature vs. nurture, was it her, was it him? The fact that the mother's relationship with her daughter was so different adds so much to the plot.

  12. I have this one and I know that it packs a powerful punch, but I haven't been compelled to pick it up quite yet. I keep waiting for it to call out to me.

  13. This book was such an eye opener to me. I empathized with Eva and Kevin more than I thought possible. Such a sad book.

  14. I first heard about this like...yesterday! It's a must-read for me.

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