Aug. 9th, 2010

tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Well, Kevin has introduced me to a real foreign country. I can be sure of that, since the definition of the truly foreign locale is one that fosters a piercing and perpetual yearning to go home.

I've been putting off writing this one up because - as the title suggests - it's actually very hard to talk about Kevin! This is a deeply harrowing book, it's a real piece of train-wreck fiction. I knew what was coming, I knew I was going to find it upsetting and disturbing but I was on a one-way journey and there was no getting off before the end! The action unfolds through a series of letters to her absent husband written by Eva Khatchadourian in which she narrates and tries to come to terms with the life of her son, Kevin who, just before his sixteenth birthday kills seven of his fellow high-school students, as well as a teacher and a member of catering staff. In trying to rationalise her son's behaviour, Eva questions her own role and success as a mother. It was this angle that first attracted me to the novel. Lionel Shriver was interviewed by Nicki DeFago in Childfree and Loving It! in which she admits that she wrote ...Kevin partly to work through her own fears and reluctance to become a mother. Shriver notably still isn't a mother which probably isn't a surprise given the depth of the horror in her portrayal of Kevin, who really is a nasty piece of work, seemingly from birth. At least, that's how Eva portrays him but what's really clever about this novel is that Shriver keeps subtly reminding her readers that we only have Eva's side of the story, and Eva is far from being a reliable narrator. The nature/nurture debate rages large in this book: is Kevin really born evil or a product of his flawed society and upbringing? Shriver does an impressive - if sometimes frustrating job - of keeping this question open.

A lot of the responses to this novel on Amazon and other book blogs seem to round on Eva for being selfish, driven and cold. True, she isn't always a likeable character and is certainly flawed but I found her to be a very rounded and believable portrait of a conflicted mother. I would like to hope that Kevin is a less believable creation, but - drawing as it does on actual high school massacres (Kevin even passes judgement on some real cases) - there is a disquieting vein of realism in this book. I was glad to be done with this novel because it really did disturb me in places, but at the same time I'm glad to have read it. The plot didn't always convince, and Eva's easily distractable narrative style - though hugely realistic - did grate a bit in places I have to admit. But this is an important book, bravely raising issues that - however unsettling and however taboo - we do all need to talk about.

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September 2010

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