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
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.