Monthly Archives: October 2011

We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver


I said in my previous post that you wouldn’t hear from me in a while, but I was obviously wrong! The combination of a typhoon in Hong Kong on the day our removalists were supposed to turn up and masses of people wanting to leave Hong Kong at the occasion of the Chinese National Day holiday has left me stranded at the airport. I have finally managed to get a seat on a plane to Sydney tonight, but this means I will get there a good 48 hours after heading to the airport the first time…. As a consequence, I have stacks of time for reading (and of course, writing this banter). I finished We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. This book won the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. It is a psychological, harrowing, disturbing exploration of several important topics which include responsibility and accountability, guilt, the “nature or nurture” question, innate evil, and – let’s not forget the heart of the story – what it means to be a parent (or a child), as well as the why of mass shootings. Phew! Do you think that’s enough? My sister-in-law gave me the book after reading it and warned me about the “difficult” ending chosen by Shriver. So of course, I was looking for that ending from the very start, but apart from one element, I missed it until it finally dawned on me about fifty pages from the word “End”. The book is written in the form of letters addressed by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin; I thought it would annoy me, but it didn’t, on the contrary. It provides a wonderful insight into what goes through Eva’s mind as she initially refuses to have a child, then gives in, much to her husband’s surprise and utmost joy. But things turn a little sour, as their son Kevin is nothing what they expect – and not someone they are able to understand. At all. The letters explore the relationship between Kevin and her mother, between Kevin and her father, but also between Eva and Franklin themselves. At times I found myself angry at one or the other, sad, happy or simply sympathetic, but never neutral. Having children is often not an easy (Read: natural) decision for women, unlike what many would like to believe, and this book is quite courageous in many ways. I am already thinking of quite a few friends to recommend it to. It’s well written and clever. But what I loved about it is that even after finishing it, I keep thinking about what it means. It’s not quite philosophical, but almost. It’s definitely a great book, and I wish I had read it earlier. It’s also a nice change from the crime novels I have been reading lately. Since reading We need to talk about Kevin, I have discovered that it was made into an eponymous movie this year. I think I’ll go and see it if I can. It was directed by Lynne Ramsey, and stars Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly and Ezra Miller. We need to talk about Kevin, the book: five stars!

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Filed under Books, Hong Kong, Reading