Our Book Review:
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is primarily a brilliant book and secondly a beautiful film that should be read first and then watched afterwards. The narrative of the book is told through a series of letters from Eva, a liberal travel-book writer, to her estranged husband as she talks of their son Kevin’s high school violence. The film is a series of flashbacks and edits throughout Kevin’s life as seen through the eyes of his mother showing the tension that has always existed between them. Both of the texts lead up to a truly shocking act of violence and explore Kevin’s motive and the possible warning signs evident throughout his life.
The novel begins amidst the uncertainty of the Bush-Gore 2000 election where Eva Khatchadourian has begun to write a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin as a cathartic exercise after their son has been imprisoned for his violence. She is a Democrat and he is a Republican and as she writes she reminds him of how he must be appalled by the country’s reaction to the unclear election. This contrast in political views is symbolic of a wider contrast between the couple that lasts the entire book.
Eva has made a career writing travel guidebooks and freely admits early on (to the reader, not Kevin) that her children have frustrated her ambitions to see the world. This underlying resentment proves overwhelming after Kevin’s violence as Eva begins to reflect on how she could have predicted his behavior through some of the earlier terrible things that he has done. She reflects on how he treats his sister (appallingly) and how Franklin could never see the truth under the veneer of perfection that he granted his son.
A powerful narrative device at work during the book is the multiple references to real life school violence. Shriver uses these injections of real life as chronological punctuation points throughout the chapters for two main reasons; to remind the audience how frequently these tragedies occur, and to increase the guilt that Eva feels in relation to the actions of her own son.
The pace of the novel creates a sense of awful foreboding as more details are revealed of Kevin’s actions as she reflects on her visits to him in prison, as well as memories of his behavior wen he was young being relayed to the husband. The pain that Eva feels in trying to convince Franklin that Kevin was malicious and not just mischievous is at times hard to read, but is incredibly moving and represents motherhood in a painfully honest light. It is hard to believe that Shriver has no children of her own as the details of the family dynamics are incredibly realistic.
Written by Ollie England.
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