TITLE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
AUTHOR: LIONEL SHRIVER
Details: Book Club read
One faithful Thursday in 1999 three days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Khatchadourian kills seven students in his school as well as a cafeteria worker and a teacher. During the aftermath of the shooting and trails, his mother, Eva, visits him in prison while she writes long letters to her absent husband, Franklin, in which she narrates the story of Kevin’s life. She is trying to work out if Kevin was bad from the moment of conception or if there was a certain moment when it all went horribly wrong. Could she and Franklin possibly have seen this coming and maybe prevented it or was the event a huge surprise to all involved?
In her letters it becomes clear that while Eva saw problems in Kevin from the moment he was born, Franklin never noticed or at least, never acknowledged that his son might possibly have issues. But does this mean that Eva has been right all along or only that her attitude towards her son made this outcome more likely? Is anyone to blame for what Kevin did or was what happened inevitable from the moment the boy was born?
I did not like this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very well written and a compelling read in a “can’t look away from the accident” sort of way, but I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like any of the characters in the book. Eva seemed too negative too sure that she was right and the rest of the world wrong. Franklin annoyed me with his refusal to see any problems where his son was concerned. And Celia, Kevin’s younger sister, was painted as his complete opposite to such an extent that it defied credibility.
In more detail, my issues with this story were the following:
I’m convinced that any parent who’s child does something unimaginable or to whose child something terrible happens spends the time afterwards going over the what-ifs, wondering if they are somehow to blame for what happened; asking themselves if things would have been different if only they had not done this or had done that. I’m also convinced that in a lot of cases the answer will more than likely be no.
Equally, I’m sure that most if not all parents have (had) moments when they wondered whether they were actually suited to the job of bringing up a child, have on occasion thought about what they might have been doing if it hadn’t been for the presence of the child, and I think that is normal and natural.
The mother in this book repulsed me though. If I could, maybe, imagine why she would write about Kevin in the detached and critical tones she does, it escapes me completely why her writing about her daughter isn’t more loving. While she claims to have had a connection with this second child from almost the first moment, that doesn’t come across in the words she uses. She is critical about both children, if for completely different reasons.
And yes, I do get that this is supposed to be a mother clinically studying the past in an attempt to find out what may have caused the catastrophe that was to follow I just can’t feel any sympathy or understanding for the way in which she is doing this.
At some point, near the end of the book Eva writes: “I hope I haven’t related this chronology in so dispassionate a fashion that I seem callous.” In my opinion, that is exactly what she appears to be. And that didn’t make the reading of this book any easier.
Although the shocking revelation in the last “letter” in the book and the last few scenes with Kevin did a little bit to redeem the book, it was too little and too late.
This book turned out to be a page-turner for me. Not so much because I needed to find out what would happen next, although that did play a small part, but because I was afraid that if I put the book down for too long I wouldn’t be able to return to it. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is something every reader will have to decide for themselves.