We need to talk about Kevin by

Dear Franklin, I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards.
–Lionel Shriver - We need to talk about Kevin - c. 2006 - pg 1

ISBN: 1852424672
Orange Prize winner 2005; The Guardian

Just before his 16th birthday Kevin Khatchadourian murders 9 people; 7 students at his high school, a teacher and a worker in the cafeteria. This is Eva’s, his mother’s version of his life. Of her life prior to Kevin’s birth and how her son changed her life. Told through letter to her husband, Franklin, the novel reveals all her thoughts and suspicions. And how the aftermath of the killings have utterly transformed her life, and who she is.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of first person narratives. Too often they can be a lazy way of writing. And it is all too easy for the author to include to much detail, or too little. Here, however, it works well. We meet Kevin at his birth and get to see him grow and develop as a person, until that fateful Thursday. And because we are aware of what will happen, as is Eva, she pays special attention to clues that might have alerted her. Anything that might have tipped her off.

But this, I think, is the problem. From his birth Kevin seems somewhat of a mini-monster. Driving away nannies and childminders when only an infant. I do think that babies have their own personalities, and different babies can have very different behaviours, but to ascribe such malice and rage to an infant who can’t even sit up seems a little far-fetched. It also makes the “investigation” into why teenagers are increasingly turning to murder less relevant. Most of the real mass murders have been perpetrated by normal kids, or those isolated from the mainstream. Yes, Kevin is a loner, but on his own terms. All through the book he comes across as a virtual anti-christ.

But then again, this is all from Eva’s point of view, and we know that she is biased. She knows what he has done. The very fact that Kevin is a murderer must have some impact on her version of events. And because we only see things from her perspective we have no real way of telling if her memory is faulty. Or if she is portraying Kevin in a less than truthful way. She is our narrator, she is the one telling the story, and we have to trust her. Or at least trust that the events she described happened, though possibly not the way she described. Or maybe just with different motivations.

An enthralling book, I kept wanting to read more, mainly so I wouldn’t ruin the ending by thinking about it too much. Although I don’t think that it was ruined, despite me having a fair idea of what was to happen. Also, given the fact that this is a novel, and therefore fiction, it has an aspect of closure, or maybe of moving forward that is slightly unbelievable.

Despite these tiny misgivings I would recommend this book as one to read. You may not like Eva, she’s very much a woman of strong opinion, but you’ll end up engrossed in her story. And the fact that we can’t be sure whether or not to trust her adds to the story rather than detracts, as it forces us to question her.

Not one for soon-to-be parents though.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. NineMoons says:

    This is probably the most terrifying book I've ever read. Either Kevin was a monster from the word go and that is why Eva couldn't like or love him or he became a monster at quite an early age because Eva disliked and hated him. Either way, it's horrifying. Because we know from very early on about the murders in the school (although the calculated, calm nature of the killings is not laid out before us until the end), I found those murders less chilling and frightening than the other things Kevin did. Like you, I knew what was coming in the end. The personal nature of those acts really got to me. The performance for the one audience that mattered. Shudder.

    Of course, Eva is the very essence of an unreliable narrator so we can't trust her version of Kevin's life. In particular, Eva's ideas that Kevin refused to breastfeed in order to reject her, cried constantly in order to drive Eva insane and didn't learn to use the toilet until he was 6 as a way of punishing her veer close to insanity! But if Kevin is a sociopath (or has some other type of antisocial personality disorder), which seems very likely, then it is possible that he was just born that way and all the nurturing and loving in the world might not have helped him greatly.

    I can't get this book out of my head.

  2. Fence says:

    It is very cleverly written though; because you know that Kevin ends up a mass murderer then you are primed to believe Eva.

    I also thought the <spoiler>ending was a bit quick almost as though it was, hmm, Eva needs closure, lets have her work through her issues in these letters, and than bang! Kev begins to realise what an idiot he has been</spoiler>

    I wonder was the name Eva chosen because of its similarities to Eve?

  3. NineMoons says:

    Damn, I wish I could remember how to do the spoiler thingy on the comments – there's a lot of spoileriffic stuff I'd like to say!

    But yeah, bang! was a bit easy. But then I thought because of the age he was at and where he was going that in some ways the bang! made sense. Like how he was when he was sick – he finally needed someone. He was scared and alone.

    I actually had nightmares about the gym sequence last night. It was mainly because I was migrainous and a bit crazed (I freaked out when Beloved turned out the light and got scared of the DARK for fuck's sake!) but I think her description was just so visual that I couldn't get it out of my head. It was so calculated and cold – the marksman on high, the targets running and hiding.

    Interesting point about Eva's name. Cain/Kevin. Hmmm.

  4. Fence says:

    I'm trying to remember how much html you know. Just put spoiler with the html brackets to open the tag. so angle bracket spoiler close angle bracket. Then all the spoiler info and to close the tag put /spoiler inside the brackets.

  5. NineMoons says:

    Hey! It worked!

    <spoiler>Can you delete the other comments so that I don't look like a total fool</spoiler>

  6. Fence says:

    Deleted. In case you didn't realise :)

    Night.

  7. NineMoons says:

    Thank you pet. Love you.

  8. anne says:

    I almost bought this last time. Now I'll probably give in next time I see it.

    But you need to mark your books the way you do your movies. I need simple yes/no's, 10/1's, etc. ;)

  9. Fence says:

    Give in, do.

    And I try to rate books, but often forget. I'll go away and edit so you'll be happy :)

  10. anne says:

    9/10? Now I'm happy and I'll definitely give in.

  11. Fence says:

    Victory is mine!