We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A brave and thought-provoking book dealing with the eternal nature vs nurture debate and our need to apportion blame for terrible events. Controversially tackling the taboo of mothers who don't bond with their children, this is a 'must read' book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687341

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

Politicians continue to argue that the solution to social issues lies with the family, so it is timely that at the heart of Lionel Shriver's 2005 Orange Prize winning novel is the issue of nature vs nurture - what makes a person like he or she is? Is the eponymous Kevin born evil or is he influenced by his mother's coldness towards him. There are no clear answers and that's what gives this brave book, which tackles the taboos that some mothers don't bond with their children, such power.

The story of Kevin, from before he is born to that tragic Thursday when he murders several classmates and a teacher in a 'Columbine'-style killing is told in a series of letters from his mother, Eva, written to her apparently estranged husband, Franklin. Eva struggles to answer the one great unanswered question about the spate of school killings that happened in the US in the late 1990s - of which Columbine is only the most well known - why?. Surely it must be someone's fault. Who is to blame?

What gives this book so much of its strength is that it is told only from the point of view of Eva in her letters to Franklin. Looking back on events, it seems that everyone is against her and her apparent honesty and willingness to accept fault makes her appear both very human and deserving of the reader's sympathy and trust. A successful career woman, her decision to have a child with Franklin, with whom her relationship appears a bit shaky, is as much to do with their sustaining their relationship as with a maternal urge. In fact, she doesn't really have that maternal drive and yet that is what society appears to expect of her. When Kevin turns out to be less than angelic, the gaps in her relationship with Franklin widen. You can see it happening and Eva recalls it all in painful but ordered detail. So when discrepancies start to appear in her own account, the reader is completely torn. How reliable is she as a witness to her own life?

The book takes a little while to get into. It's as if in the early pages, Eva is struggling to find her voice and the clarity to trace through Kevin's life. But Shriver is a wonderful storyteller and manages to drip feed the reader with just enough information to weave the pattern of the story. You are drawn in by her openness and honesty. Ultimately I concluded that all I could say is that at least she believes what she is saying is the truth. But that's what I loved about the book - it makes the reader think and makes you part of the story.

And Shriver has plenty of twists up her sleeve to tug at the reader's emotions.

This edition is part of Serpent's Tail's Classic series and comes with the addition of a brief introduction from Kate Mosse. Can a book first published in 2003 really be considered a 'classic' yet? Absolutely it can. It's complex, multi-layered and tackles real issues and societal taboos with exceptional clarity and bravery and these issues are not going away any time soon. Highly recommended ..... although perhaps not if you are expecting your first child!

Many thanks to the kind people at Serpent's Tail for inviting The Bookbag to talk about Kevin.

If you like the idea of stories told in the form of letters, it seems that literary prize givers also appreciate the idea with The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga winning the 2008 Man Booker prize. Meanwhile, 2010 Orange prize long listed novel The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton also looks at the role of the media in dealing with school scandals and is also highly recommended.

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Buy We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver at Amazon.com.


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