Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Reading Challenge 2017, 2/32)

               kevin2 Every monster has a mother. This is a story about one of them.

                Kevin was 16 years old when he murdered 7 of his classmates and 2 adults. Nobody really knew why. Everyone was wondering, but nobody had the real answer. And mind you, neither do we, readers, after reading this long, wonderful novel.

                It’s written in the form of letters that Eva, Kevin’s mother, writes to her estranged husband, Franklin. She tells him about her every-day life and chance encounters with mother of one the murdered kids. About her visits to the prison, to see Kevin. But, she also tells him about their life together – and her point of view on that life. She recollects and vividly describes every single thing she thinks is important to understand Kevin and his actions. She starts at time from before Kevin was born, and goes to Thursday, where Kevin committed the murder. I guess Eva wants to understand her own actions and find the answer to the question everybody’s always asking in such cases – is this my fault? Is it the parents’ fault? Is it the mother’s fault?

                We never find out. It’s not a novel that would give answers, or any sense of completion. It’s not a novel that justifies anything. On the contrary, it touches deeply hidden instincts, brings out the most difficult questions, and presents issues we like to forget, or pretend they don’t exist. Like, what if the mother can’t love her own child? What if she’s tired and not able to form a bond with him or her?

                The issue of unwanted pregnancy and then maternity seems to prevail in the whole novel, but is not the only one. Eva agrees to have her first child at a late age of 37, and when she does, it’s mostly for her husband. There is one thing she is sure of – she loves her husband and wants to make him happy. If he thinks their life is empty without a child, so be it. After initial hesitation, she manages to convince herself that’s what she wants. Only to regret it at some deep level, almost immediately. She feels trapped while pregnant. She feels trapped as a mother. They all told her that when the child is born, something “unimaginable happens.” Something that cannot be described. Something mothers feel instantly. She waits for it – and it never happens for her. Not with Kevin. She gave birth to a child, to whom she didn’t feel a thing right from the start.

                It’s not that she didn’t try. She did everything she could and she was told to. But Kevin was a difficult baby. He would either cry for endless periods of time, or keep quiet at all times. He didn’t get much easier with time, either. He was deeply disturbed, but also very lonely and very intelligent. From Eva’s point of view, he was manipulative, and never let his father know what he really was like – a confused, angry, depressed, unfeeling child and teenager. But that’s the thing with this novel – we only get Eva’s point of view. So, even though she doesn’t hide anything, and is always brutally honest, and doesn’t even justify herself, we are still left with a question: do we trust her? Her judgment of the situation? Do we trust that she doesn’t lie to herself, and makes her believe things?

                And then we have the father. The oblivious, childlike father, who would always find an excuse for Kevin. Eva was the one who saw evil in her own child, but Franklin was the one who never thought Kevin did anything wrong. As much as Eva loved Franklin, I disliked him. I wanted to shake him and yell to get some help for the child before it’s too late. But Franklin didn’t. He believed till the very end that their son, his flesh and blood, was just a normal teenager. So, he wore diapers till the age of six, and he had problems speaking. So, he wasn’t invited to playdates, and almost no nanny was able to survive taking care of him. These things happen. So, the nanny left. So, he didn’t want to give diapers up. But he did give them up, right? So, we’re still one big happy American family.

                It’s just that Eva never told Franklin how she got Kevin to give the diapers up.

kevinWe are coming to the topic of evil itself. It might have been because Eva rejected Kevin at the very beginning, and – as an intelligent and instinctive child – he always felt it at some level. But what if he really was evil? We want to believe that nobody is born evil, that bad people are just unhappy people who were hurt early in life. That circumstances made them murder, or steal. That they are mentally ill. What if they’re not? What if somebody just feels so deeply the hopelessness of life that they think only murder can do anything for them? What if somebody just doesn’t have any empathy?

                The book is also a criticism of modern age Western countries – I’d say not only America. A country where people are not starving –at least, not the way they do in Africa. A country, where you can have anything you want – if you have money. Everything, but love. Everything, but sense of life. Everything, but sense of anything being worth pursuing. How many of you have heard of Ted Bundy, serial killer? I have. Do you know the name of his victim? Just one? I don’t.

                That’s the reason Kevin gives. If you want to be famous, you can always try to be an actress, or publish a book and be the next J. K. Rowling. But this requires hard work, planning, practicing, lots of disappointments, and is never by any means a sure thing. But if you kill a few people, especially when you’re original and will NOT do it with a gun, you’re instantly famous. You’re the Next Big Thing and they’re doing interviews with you. Asking for your childhood, for your reasons, for your thoughts, for everything.

                We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just a novel. It’s a great piece of literature. It is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It may be one of the best books I read at all. But it’s a difficult one. Disturbing and unforgiving. Brutally honest, and cruel. It’s a book where a woman will tell you that she’s not surprised when children go nuts and kill other children, but pure goodness of her own daughter is the biggest surprise for her. Anything somebody ever does for good, for no interest at all, is a surprise for her. Finally, it’s an important book in the era of people killing people. Regardless of the reasons, regardless of circumstances, it’s there. Thirst for blood. Hatred. Sense of hopelessness. This book will drain you, and will make you feel sorry for humankind. Maybe even ashamed.

                But maybe that’s the way we should feel.

My rating: 10/10

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Lionel Shriver – We Need to Talk About Kevin (Reading Challenge 2017, 2/32)

  1. I haven’t read the book, not sure I could, but you certainly made it live and the questions asked are right at the top of questions we immediately (although mostly unacknowledged even to ourselves) ask. What influenced this child to become what he became? Was it something internal, external, was it something genetic? And there isn’t a mother on earth that wouldn’t question herself first and foremost.

    • Thanks! This is a difficult/depressing book, so I totally understand people who are hesistant to read it. I’m happy you liked my review; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to describe how I felt while/after reading this book. Cheers!

      • I’ve often wondered how the family (mothers in particular) feel and the backlash they receive for unconditional love of a child that commits such atrocities. You love the child but not what they’ve done. Ppl forget to separate the actions from the individual. That’s not to say they aren’t responsible for what they did, but… I applaud your ability to read something that painful. And it would be painful to write and read because you can’t help but feel whats written.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s