We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Dear Franklin, I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.

– Opening sentence

We Need to Talk About Kevin has been on my radar as a must-read book for a while. I didn’t know too much about it, but had a pretty good idea based on the title and it’s reputation (actually, a visit to the wikipedia page for this novel will tell the reader almost everything – so I’m surprised how I got away with knowing as little as I did. Don’t worry though, as always, my review is spoiler free).

Published in 2003, We Need to Talk About Kevin was the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005, and adapted into a film in 2011. It’s been dubbed as a mother’s worst nightmare.

Now that I’ve read it, I can easily say it’s one of my all-time favourite books; it made me feel a LOT of things.

The book is written as a series of letters from the same narrator, Eva. She writes regularly to her ex-husband (Franklin) about their son, Kevin, providing an uncomfortably direct and honest account of her thoughts and emotions over the years.

You see, Eva never had that ‘revelation’ moment when Kevin was born. Despite being led to expect that her  whole world would change and an unconditional bond would be formed the second she first gazed into the eyes of her firstborn, Eva was instead forced to fake it.

This startlingly honest confession is something that, I think, all women fear. I certainly do. I have been open and honest with my long-term boyfriend that I don’t  want to have children. There’s a number of reasons for this, but I suppose one of them is a fear of feeling like Eva:

Franklin, I felt – absent. I kept scrabbling around in myself for this new indescribable emotion, like stirring a crowded silverware drawer for the potato peeler, but no matter how I rattled around, no matter what I moved out of the way, it wasn’t there. The potato peeler is always in the drawer after all. It’s under the spatula, it’s slipped into the fold of the food-processor guarantee- 

“He’s beautiful,” I mumbled; I had reached for a line from TV.

Eva is a relatable character, and I think that’s why the book got so under my skin. Sometimes I relished in her honesty, and at other times I hated her for her arrogant selfishness. No one likes to admit their flaws, and by creating a character the reader can identify with, author Shriver actually forces the reader to see the flaws within themselves.

When I found myself nodding in agreement with Eva’s selfish thoughts, I was admitting that I too am selfish. Despite being a work of fiction, many of the events mentioned are real – such as the infamous Columbine school shooting. This added dimension of realness blurs the line between fact and fiction making the novel, and the reader’s connection to it, much more prominent.

Kevin, now 18, was unlike other children growing up. Or so Eva says. Eva depicts Kevin as an angry, intelligent and manipulative being from the very beginning. As a newborn, Kevin would howl relentlessly throughout the day when Eva was home, only to fall deathly silent and compliant the second Franklin would return from work. This led to Franklin unable to empathise with Eva’s accounts of the days. He thought she must be exaggerating, or struggling to cope.

We all know that every story has two sides. But in We Need to Talk About Kevin, we are only subject to Eva’s side. Are her accounts, written in hindsight, entirely accurate? Or are we hearing the warped accounts of a mother suffering with undiagnosed postnatal depression, attempting to pinpoint what went wrong? (If you have any opinions on this – let me know in the comments!).

Ultimately, We Need to Talk About Kevin sucked me in with it’s strong characters and relatable emotions. I pitied Eva, but condoned her. I applauding her, but was also frustrated and disappointed in her.

There is no build-up of suspense throughout this book. We are told quite early on of the shocking crime committed by Kevin – it is more about Eva’s struggle to come to terms with it. However, the reader is treated to an unexpected shock towards the end which really knocked me for six – and it was then that We Need to Talk About Kevin became cemented as one of my favourites.

Daring, confronting, unique and unapologetic – this book reminded me of some of the early works of Stephen King, particularly The Bachman Books.

5 Stars (5 / 5)

All the sheets are clean.

– Final sentence

Have you read We Need to Talk About Kevin? Let me know your rating and thoughts in the comments below!

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