Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Title: We Need To Talk About Kevin 
Author: Lionel Shriver
 Serpent’s Tail
Pages: 477
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 10/10

Thought provoking, nuanced, ambiguous, horrific, dark, multi-layered, disturbing, unputdownable, engrossing, terrifying, even haunting – these are some of the words which popped into my mind while reading this extraordinary book. I often forgot that it was a work of fiction but it could have easily been a real story.

In ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, the story unfolds through a series of letters by Eva Khatchadourian addressed to her husband, Franklin. Through her candid letters, Eva tries to pursue the possible reasons that eventually led her first born Kevin to murder seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher, three days short of his sixteenth birthday. She ruminates, evaluates, examines several incidents, feelings and experiences from before Kevin was born leading up to the present context (two years after the unfortunate incident).

In the beginning, she is taken in by the idea of having a child “for a change” but eventually when she finds that she was pregnant she did not like the idea any longer. Pregnancy felt intrusive in her personal space. Even after the baby was born, she failed to feel the connect with her newborn. She detested the changes it brought to her body and to their lives. In her letters, she candidly admits to her faults and her failings as a mother, in order to single out the reasons that eventually led Kevin to commit the unthinkable. 

She confesses to being a bad mother. When little Kevin tells her that she did not want him. In response, Eva tells Kevin that he would not want himself. All in the guise of being factual. She was also envious about Franklin's attention for the baby. The way baby responded to him and he behaved with the baby. 

She felt early on that Kevin was not an ordinary child. There was something odd about him. He was evil by birth. But she forever struggles to convince Franklin about this because Kevin is always the regular, loving, enthusiastic child in front of him. Eva believed that Kevin was a scheming, shrewed boy, not a little innocent child. The way Kevin behaves in front of Eva is almost eerie but Franklin always laughs off all such incidents. He might have been even unreasonable in convincing himself that there could not be anything wrong with his child. Eva goes up to the extent of having a second child Celia to prove (even to herself) that Kevin was certainly different and her own emotions as a mother were quite alright for the second child. A lot of times, Eva seemed even scared of Kevin.

Eva comes across as cold, proud and also vulnerable at times, but still Eva and Franklin could be any regular couple and that is what terrifies the most. This could happen to anybody!

The story telling and characterization are probably one of the best that I have ever read. This book is in the league of classics. A must-read if you are also a parent! It is the kind of book that stays with you long after you have finished it. You cannot stop thinking about it. 

It is a difficult book to read but always engaging, never slow. I cannot recommend it enough!

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  1. sounds really interesting & disturbing. Will look out for it!

  2. Don't miss it! Superb story telling and characterisation. If you like that kind of books.

  3. Sound quite nice.. the theme itself.

    And I generally like epistolaries (there's something about them.. Not that I've read that many).

    But 477 pages.. hmm... too long. Lately I'm trying to NOT pick any book which is longer than 300 pages or so. :)

  4. Sounds so very interesting!! Have noted... will definitely read it soon!

  5. @sands: Don't let those 477 pages make you give it a miss. It has a good pace. You wouldn't even realise it had 400+ pages :-)
    @Shilpa: a very good book indeed. Will look forward to your views on this one.

  6. This book was recently recommended to me with the disclaimer that it is disturbing and I may not like it.

    But your review is really convincing. It sounds so powerful, I must get this one.


  7. @nishitak: Thank you, I'm flattered.
    It is a disturbing book but not, you know, gory. It's best part is that it is multi layered and opens slowly but when it opens, it keeps giving you surprises / shocks. But certainly an experience worth having. This book stays with you for sometime after you have finished the last page!

  8. I am also mightly tempted to pick this book up during my next visit to library...will let you know soon

  9. @Elizabeth: I can't recommend it enough. It is an experience!

  10. I love this book as well despite how distressing it is. Really makes you question the nature v nurture debate. I first read the book just after a break up in 2009... not the best time to read it!!!