‘The atrocity sounds torn from a newspaper, the incident is minimizing to the point of obscenity, and the day our son committed mass murder is too long, isn’t it?’
I’m not exactly breaking new ground when I say that this book is divisive. Its dark subject matter, its writing style, these things and more mean that We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of those books that readers seem to either love or hate. I must confess, as horrible as its premise was, I loved it. I read over half of it on the first day I picked it up, I was engrossed, I simply had to keep reading. The only reason it has taken me this long to get a review up is that I had to sit and think about it for some time once I read the last page. This review has been rather tricky to write, and I realise it’s sixteen years late as it is, considering when the book was first published. Unfortunately, the themes the novel explores are proving to be timeless, and this book is just as relevant in 2019 as it was in 2003.
We Need To Talk About Kevin is an epistolary novel composed of letters written by Eva, Kevin’s mother, to her estranged husband. These letters tell the story of Kevin’s upbringing and show Eva questioning her own culpability for his actions, while also exploring wider issues of school shootings, how young boys and young girls are expected to behave, the complexities and resentments of pregnancy and motherhood… The paperback edition I own is 468 pages long and, as you may expect, it encompasses a great deal – but while reading, it did not feel long at all. All of these topics were often examined with black humour, such as when Eva says of pregnancy ‘All very easy for you to want to be a Daddy, to buy into all that stuffed bunny schlock, when I was the one who had to blow up like a sow […] I was the one who would be ripped to ribbons ramming a watermelon through a passage the size of a garden hose.’ Despite how terrible Eva’s circumstances were throughout the book, I often found myself sympathising with her without intending to, simply because of her darkness and wit. Lionel Shriver’s writing style may be too overwrought for some but for me, the style helped to clearly convey Eva’s condescending and cruel nature.
‘But any woman who passes a clump of testosterone-drunk punks without picking up the pace, without avoiding the eye contact that might connote challenge or invitation, without sighing inwardly with relief by the following block, is a zoological fool. A boy is a dangerous animal.’
This a book which poses many questions, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind is whether Kevin was a born sociopath, or whether it was his mother’s treatment of him that made him act the way he did – the old nature vs nurture debate. From the moment he was born, and even prior to the birth, Eva had her doubts about him and was convinced he was out to get her, yet it is clear that she is an unreliable narrator, blaming Kevin for actions we do not actually see him do, and constantly treating him with suspicion, if not outright hatred. She sneers “You’re a little shit, aren’t you? […] Mummy was happy before widdle Kevin came awong […] Do you know there are some days that Mummy would rather be dead?” when Kevin is only months old, for goodness’ sake.
I do not want to say much more than I already have about the novel’s plot, for the sake of others like me who didn’t read it when it first came out and it was surrounded by hype. That being said, I can’t write this review without mentioning the denouement – it completely caught me off guard and, honestly, I’m still coming to terms with it. This is a difficult book to read due to the issues it deals with, but if you haven’t read it yet, I would strongly advise you to pick it up. If you have already read it, I would highly recommend you do so again.