There’s no denying that Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin is a pretty grim book. There’s plenty of violence, disturbing psychology, manipulation and teenage delinquency – not something that I would normally pick up with glee. But there’s also no denying that this is an incredible, breath-taking work of fiction and a very important read.
Narrated by Eva, the mother of the eponymous Kevin, in a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin, Shriver’s novel is undoubtedly hard-hitting. Most readers will know that the novel focuses very heavily on the subject of school shootings – a social issue that was unbelievably common in America at the time of first publication – and, more than anything else, probes the very difficult question of why this phenomenon was occurring. What drives privileged teenagers to shoot and ultimately kill their peers? Nature or nurture? Society or instinct?
We Need to Talk about Kevin chronicles the whole of Kevin’s life – from birth to that Thursday – and does so with unflinching detail.
To reveal any of Shriver’s insights would be to spoil the book for any unwitting reader, but it’s definitely worth saying that I can’t imagine the subject being discussed by a more competent author. Although I was initially a bit alienated by the (slightly) overwritten style, the complexity and deftness of Shriver’s plotting is just staggering – never revealing one slight aspect before the plot demands it – and it’s especially impressive to a burgeoning creative writer like me. The characterisation, too, is impeccable – with just enough uncertainty to make you question Eva’s reliability as a narrator.
I read the majority of this novel in a matter of hours, desperately ploughing onto the visceral, shocking end. I hated Kevin, but couldn’t wait to read more and more about his motivations; his descent into full-fledged sociopath. It’s definitely not the sort of book that I would ever describe as ‘enjoyable’, but it’s a narrative that is thoroughly worth reading.
Have you ever read We Need To Talk About Kevin? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments below!