“It's always the mother's fault, ain't it?" she said softly, collecting her coat. "That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don't teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. ...” Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin
This book was intense.
Very intense indeed.
It tells the tale of the very successful Eva Khatchadourian. The book is written in first person through an epistolary structure. One of my favourite types of first person narrative.
Eva Khatchadourian is writing letters to her estranged husband, recounting certain moments throughout their lives together that told her that Kevin (their first child) was not right. The blurb sets the scene nicely, and you read the book knowing that Kevin was the perpetrator of a school shooting. She is writing two years after the fact, and throughout her letters she speaks with scary honesty about her feelings towards pregnancy, motherhood, her dislike of her own child and her inability to believe that being maternal is innate.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is performed by Lorelei King. She's a very well paced, very professional sounding lady, and does an excellent job of exuding a coolness that we would expect from Eva Khatchadourian. Even her male voices and the voice of a young Kevin are very good and believable. I bought this audiobook from Audible and it is only six and a half hours long (thereabouts) and so I found myself listening to this every chance I got; in a taxi, whilst cooking, during work breaks. The production is excellent and of high quality.
So the story. This excellent piece of contemporary literature - that I hope, and expect, that in one hundred years time university literature students will be reading for a feminist literature seminar.
I really thought this was brilliantly written. Some pieces of prose were just... so... mind blowing. So beautiful in their simplicity that sometimes I would rewind the book so I could listen to it again.
This book is written like a psychological thriller, as well as truly exploring the pressure upon women to be excellent at everything... the pressure of being successful, educated, rich, but also be expected to work, have children, and raise perfect children. Eva is a modern woman's nightmare. She is the embodiment of the anxieties and pressures on western women living now. The fear that after having fulfilled all other expectations in life, a woman must then fulfil what her biology expects of her, she must procreate - and be happy about it, and must have a natural maternal instinct otherwise she is odd, a failure. The arguments, and points to discuss are mind blowing, and I think Shriver takes this all in her stride. There is no rush to the narrative.
Eva, throughout her narrative, discusses her relationship in depth with Kevin; but at the same time, I read this feeling that I could not trust her whole-heartedly. I then listened to an interview by Shriver who perfectly reflected my feelings towards Eva. Shriver says
'She’s not a liar, except in the sense that we’re all liars. We all choose to remember some events more often than others, because they play to our version of the world, and of ourselves, whereas the memories that challenge who we are to ourselves have a funny tendency to seep away. So naturally Eva remembers all the scenes in which her son did (or seemed to do) something nasty...'
and I found that this was the most important thing to remember throughout the novel... that, truly, I wasn't sure if Kevin was born with a sociopathic personality disorder - or whether he was reacting to his mother's dislike of him and desperate for attention. Does she carry the blame solely for Kevin's oddness as a child, or was he born to commit those murders. It's the recurring argument of Nature Vs Nurture.
The interesting part in the book is that Kevin's father, Franklin, absolutely adores his son, and cannot see in Kevin what Eva does... and Kevin resents it. The morning before he commits the murders Kevin has an outburst towards his father that gives the impression that his father never really saw him for who he was - and that he hated him for that. It's very interesting.
Suffice to say, in my opinion, Kevin wins at the end. That is the saddest part about the novel. He wins, and yet, Eva seems to mend a little because Kevin has won.
I won't give away the ending, but read it - let me know what you think. Did Kevin win in the end? Or did Eva rise above it all?
A review of the movie will be on its way very soon.