We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

We need to talk about Kevin is a book which at first glance details the descent of a whole family when one member of it is truly evil. Kevin has been responsible for a high school massacre in which he killed 10 people in cold blood. The novel is then made up of a series of letters from his mother Eva to her husband after each of her visits to Kevin in the detention centre.

There are slight spoilers from this point…

We learn about Eva’s life from meeting her husband through Kevin’s birth and as he grew up. Unfortunately the view given from Eva is clearly biased, and as the book develops it is not clear whether Kevin is “evil” or whether the absence of love from his mother caused him to act in ever more desperate ways. He certainly seems to be behind some quite reprehensible acts, but there is never any clear evidence he is responsible for them prior to the massacre. Its possible that he could just be acting in accordance with the way he is treated by his mother as she always things the worst of him.

The suggestion that everything is Kevin’s fault becomes clearer when Celia is born and she is described by Eva as everything Kevin isn’t. It is hard to see how a child brought up under these circumstances could not be desperate for attention, even to the point of being disturbed.

Wherever the blame sits however there are some disturbing acts in this book, and the twist at the end was something which I could not get out of my head. Something in how it was described just left an image which was deeply distressing.

We need to talk… is fundamentally an argument against motherhood by a woman who is not a mother, showing the worst possible case in which a child and mother spend their lives hiding happiness from each other for no clear reason. I preferred Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes which is another approach to this issue.

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