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Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

Kevin Khatchadourian, famously known as “KK”, killed nine people in his high school gym, in the process earning a long jail sentence and infamy – for him and his mother Eva.  In a series of letters to her husband, Eva lays out the fabric of their lives from the beginning of their love story to Kevin’s fateful day in the gymnasium.  Confronting difficult questions, such as who is to blame for a child’s violence, Eva lays her heart out for her husband and the reader.

I have heard so very much about this book since its publication date.  It’s easy to know what it’s about; it’s revealed on the first few pages.  Even then, though, it’s absolutely devastating as it continues to its inexorable end.  It’s only as the book goes on do we realize how much Eva’s life changes because of an act her son committed.  He’s gone to jail, but she’s lost her company, her house, her social life.  She’s gone from traveling the world to write guidebooks for her highly successful company to staying in mostly to avoid acts of revenge.

The most important question the novel asks is whether or not a child’s crime can be the parents’ fault.  Much as she tried, Eva struggled to love Kevin.  She felt that he was malevolent when he was a baby and almost everything he did encouraged her suspicions.  But Eva is wrong a time or two, which causes us to question just how evil Kevin really was, and what really drove him to kill like that.  I think the saddest part is that even early on we realize that Eva does love Kevin even if she resented him from the start.  She had him mainly to keep the husband she loved so desperately happy, which is always a mistake, but I thought she recognized more of herself in him than she ever wanted to admit.

As for my own experience, I recognized almost too much of my own self in Eva (how horrible is that?).  She often comments on how she’s really too selfish to be a mother, she still wants to have her own life and somewhat resents her children for becoming more important than she is.  I think every mother must have selfish moments – otherwise she wouldn’t be human – but I have to say it made me worry.  And, of course, the fact that your kid could turn out to be a murderer is scary, but it happens to millions of mothers.

Despite its often difficult subject matter, I had a hard time putting We Need To Talk About Kevin down.  I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading and talking about it to everyone who had an ear to listen.  It truly was fascinating and I found it completely deserving of its Orange Prize.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review, but I already had a copy. Expect a giveaway soon!

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18 comments to Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

  • This is one of my favourite books! I find myself talking to loads of people about it too. It is scary to think that I am now responsible for the actions of my sons – I just hope I never have to experience anywhere near what Eva does.
    .-= Jackie (Farm Lane Books)´s last blog ..The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell =-.

  • Thanks for the review, I have this one on my bookshelf but I’m waiting till I’m in the right ‘mood’ to read it. Not exactly a summer read ;)
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Tender is the night by F.Scott Fitzgerald =-.

  • I read this shortly after it was released, and was riveted.
    .-= Jaime´s last blog ..2010: #43 – Stalking the Angel (Robert Crais) =-.

  • Great review! This really was a very powerful and disturbing read. I think Shriver did an excellent job tackling such a complex, dark subject.
    .-= Tricia´s last blog ..Review: Amsterdam =-.

  • I had a few technical problems with this one when I read it last year, but overall I really enjoyed it as well. The portrait Shriver paints is really fascinating, so I was able to overlook the few things that bugged me just so I could see how everything would turn out.

  • This book has had me curious for a long time. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your child turn into a murderer, and it sounds like this book really examines the more chilling aspects of raising a damaged child. I am glad you liked the book, and I have already put it on my wish list. It sounds like an incredibly engrossing read. Great review!
    .-= zibilee´s last blog ..Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman – 368 pgs =-.

  • I need to read this. I didn’t have a great first experience with Shriver (Double Fault), but I’m somewhat hopefully I’ll like Post-Birthday World, which I’m reading right now. I still have We Need to Talk About Kevin *and* her latest book on my shelves, so hopefully I can enjoy her work!
    .-= Jen – Devourer of Books´s last blog ..Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok – Book Review =-.

  • I haven’t read this yet, but I don’t think you or a woman who feels like Eva does is necessarily too selfish to have children. I think life would be much easier for mothers, fathers and children alike if the world didn’t expect women to give up their lives and exist mostly for the benefit of their children. If a mother *wants* to do that, that’s fine – but I wish it wasn’t the standard against which all women are measured.
    .-= Nymeth´s last blog ..Counting the Stars by Helen Dunmore =-.

  • I agree completely with Ana. I think it’s asking a lot of mothers to expect them to always sacrifice everything for the sake of their children. And it’s horrible to have that sense of guilt, just because sometimes you prioritize yourself.

    I think the mother of one of the Columbine killers had a really big interview in Oprah’s magazine. It might be something you would find interesting, after this read!
    http://www.oprah.com/world/Susan-Klebolds-O-Magazine-Essay-I-Will-Never-Know-Why
    .-= Aarti´s last blog ..Review: The Working Poor =-.

  • Sounds like an compelling story.

    And I agree that most mothers are selfish at times. I know I am.

  • This sounds like such a powerful book and what a reminder of how our actions affect others! Wow!

  • Well, lots of people grow up with neglectful or distant parents, and the vast majority of them do not become serial killers or mass murderers. I think that’s Kevin’s own issue. Eva was probably right that he was born malevolent. Like Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper says in P&P–those that are kind as children are often kind as adults.
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..The House on Tradd Street by Karen White =-.

  • I haven’t read this one, or any Lionel Shriver for that matter. I think parents who keep their own identities, lives, and activities are probably better parents than those who give up everything for their children (but what do I know?). So difficult to answer: who is responsible for a child’s actions? Although the child is older in 31 Hours, I was left with similar questions at the end.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Thursday Tea: The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano =-.

  • Shriver says this book was born out of her own troubled issues with motherhood. I always tended to think of Eva’s initial torubles with Kevin as post natal depression (she loves her second child so much after all) and a consequence of being pushed into having him before she was ready.

    So I agree with Nymeth that it’s got a lot to say about the expectations placed on mothers which makes them measure their reactions with growing panic. I’d also argue that that can have a very scary effect on any child that grows up with a mother who feels her child a form of crushing pressure. But then I tend to think that so many of society’s evils could be cut down if we just didn’t force people to fit boxes and hide their true natures.

  • I loved this too. It was intense, Shriver did such a fantastic job.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Friday Favorites: Catch-22 =-.

  • This was a very disturbing book, but so good. It took me about 100 pages to get into it, but I kept reading because it was for a book club, and I’m so glad I didn’t give up on it.

  • I really want to read this book, too. I’m on the waiting list at the library but it’s taking forever. It’s a difficult subject and after reading “Hate List” some time ago, I’m interested to see how it is treated in adult fiction.
    .-= kay @ Infiniteshelf´s last blog ..A new look for the blog! =-.

  • This was an awesome book! Eva and Kevin were such great characters to dissect. The sympathy I felt for both of them was not at all what I would have expected given the circumstances.
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..The Sunday Salon =-.