Unsettled…

I started this week with other people’s book reviews, so I thought it only fitting that I finish off the week with one of my own.

Today’s review is one I’ve been meaning to write for a couple of weeks now. It was our last face-to-face book club read, and given that my next book club catch up is next week, I thought I’d better get last month’s book off the list.

The novel is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Even typing the title sends a bit of a shiver down my spine…

Some of you might remember me mentioning this book on Facebook over the summer. It took me a long time to get through and I found it very unsettling. I had a lot of trouble putting it down, and many nights I couldn’t sleep for wondering what would happen next. On more than one occasion, I gave up trying to sleep and turned the light back on and read some more. It was an incredible novel and I’m very glad I persevered through it’s unpleasantness to the end.

“Two years ago Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a popular English teacher. Now, in a series of letters to her absent husband, Eva recounts the story of how Kevin came to be Kevin.

Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? When did it all start to go wrong?

Or was it, in fact, ever ‘right’ at all?”

I think it’s fair to say, that this description sums up the crux of this story – who is at fault when such a horrific crime occurs? Was Kevin’s behaviour a result of bad parenting, or was he just ‘born bad’? Is it possible for a person to be ‘inherently evil’ or are we ultimately a product of our environment.

Interestingly, We Need to Talk About Kevin does not answer any of these questions. What it does do though, is provide a very thorough, albeit fictional, insight into the mind of a mother – a mind racked with questions, doubts, self-flagilation and heartbreak. In some ways it also provides a window into the mind of killer, a hypothetical study in depravity. In my opinion, it does this very carefully and convincingly.

There is nothing cheerful about this book, it offers little hope or resolution. It paints a bleak portrait of parenthood, of human nature, and of the overall culture of the USA. But…

I think it is an important book. It is well constructed (albeit a little wordy at times) and it asks some very pertinent questions about how we treat each other, how we assess ourselves, and perhaps most interestingly, the assumptions we make about the people around us.

“I know you doubt me on this, but I did try very hard to form a passionate attachment to my son. But I had never experienced my feeling for you, for example, as an exercise that I was obliged to rehearse like scales on the piano. The harder I tried, the more aware I became that my effort was an abomination. Surely all this tenderness that in the end I simply aped should have come knocking at the door uninvited. Hence it was not just Kevin who depressed me, or the fact that your own affections were increasingly diverted; I depressed me. I was guilty of emotional malfeasance.”

I’m sure this novel is classified in many different ways. It’s a book club favourite, it’s ‘arguably’ women’s fiction, it’s a psychological thriller. To me, it had a little of a horror novel about it, and it is most definitely frightening. In many ways I am very glad that I did not read this book before having children.

While I was reading the book, the film was in cinemas, and it has received acclaim. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it in the future. I’ve heard it said that the casting is beyond perfect, and Kevin’s portrayal is chilling.

So to conclude, this is not an easy book to read, but it is well worth the effort. It is skilful, frightening and will leave you asking plenty of serious questions. It’s great to talk to others about, and will leave most readers haunted and reflective.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 00:32:44

    ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is on my ‘best books of all time’ list simply because, eight years after reading it, I still think about it – a book that you can’t get out of your mind for eight years is a good book!

    It caused major disagreements in my book group, I have friends that won’t even dare pick it up and I saw the film – I could talk about Kevin for a very long time!

    Reply

    • That Book You Like
      Mar 02, 2012 @ 00:35:11

      It most definitely stays with you, doesn’t it. I think the film will only add to this…

      Our group seemed to be mostly in agreement, and all pretty horrified. What were the main points of contention in the group?

      Reply

  2. Emma
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 00:51:42

    An amazingly powerful book which stays with you long after you have put it down. The portrayal of Kevin in the film is certainly chilling, but I think the film as a whole lacked much of the power which came from the book.

    Reply

  3. The Modern Home Economist
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 03:13:45

    Funnily I just finished reading this and wrote a post about it on my blog. Perhaps you can check it out as I started some discussion questions in an attempt to create a debate. Very interesting post! I thought the book was exceptional

    Reply

  4. The Modern Home Economist
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 03:48:11

    Just signed up to TBYL now. Looks like a great place for a good discussion!

    Reply

  5. Trackback: 05-03-12 Love Books Weekly Showcase | Love All Blogs
  6. Tracey Allen (@My4Bucks)
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 14:21:23

    Hi, I’ve been tossing up whether to read this or not, so it was interesting reading your review. I saw the movie and didn’t feel compelled to read the book after that. Anyway, we’re both doing the Allen and Unwin ‘My Hundred Lovers’ read-along, so thought I’d drop by and say ‘hi’ and check out your blog. Hope to see you in the discussion.

    Reply

    • That Book You Like
      Jun 01, 2012 @ 23:46:15

      Thanks so much for dropping by! What’s the link to your blog so we can pop by for a visit? I started reading ‘My Hundred Lovers’ last night, and I think it’s going to be quite an experience!

      ‘…Kevin’ is a challenging book, there’s no doubt, but I’ll say that it very different to the movie. Much more detail, and it there for more well rounded (in my opinion). Still tricky to get through at times, but worth a read.

      Reply

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