We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: Book Review


Damn, this was a powerful, brilliant and incredibly disturbing book. I’m pretty shaken up about it and can’t stop analysing it. It’s truly made me speechless and has really confused me as to whether Kevin was simply born a monster or whether it’s Eva, his mums, fault that he turned out so horrible because she didn’t like him from the start. The way Lionel Shriver wrote the novel, letters from Eva to her estranged husband Franklin, only engages us with Eva’s point of view. Meaning she is an unreliable narrator and we can’t know for sure if Kevin really was so monstrous. However, I can’t help myself but believe Eva’s side of things. Kevin isn’t the sweet little boy his father sees him as, no matter how much Eva may have exaggerated the things he did.

Kevin is an annoying, nasty and tormenting boy. Or, at least that’s the way he’s chosen to act. I didn’t like him at all for the majority of the novel (which is kind of the point). He does all these awful things to his mother and family, all before he uses his crossbow to kill 7 classmates, a teacher and a canteen worker at his school at the age of 15. The way the novel builds to this moment is excruciating and fascinating. As is Kevin’s character development, though he doesn’t really change a whole lot and is basically a psycho from the beginning. Without giving anything away, there’s only one part in the novel where I actually liked Kevin and that’s when he’s sick and actually treats his mother with the love and kindness he would if he wasn’t in control of himself and always acting so monstrous.

Eva is not a particularly likeable character either. She is harsh, cold and feels superior to the rest of America because she’s traveled and has Armenian background, among other reasons. The reason why she is most unlikeable, though, is of course that she doesn’t take to motherhood and doesn’t act the way a mother should towards her son. Her behaviour is understandable though, because Kevin is a nightmare from the moment he is born when he rejects her breast milk. She has absolutely no control over him, while Kevin easily succumbs to the care in Franklin’s arms. I’ve read that a lot of people feel unsympathetic to Eva, but there were times I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic. Actually, this novel roused in me a lot of unexpected sympathy. Though all the characters are pretty hateful (not including Celia) or foolish (Franklin), I managed to feel sympathy for them. Even for Kevin at some point.

Besides the whole nurture or nature debate, this book also rises a lot of questions about teenage angst and gun control. It covers details of a lot of school shootings in the 1990’s around the time that Kevin decided on his scheme. Particularly the novel focused on the Columbine shooting, which Kevin thought idiotic and cowardly. Eva spends a lot of time in the novel talking about school shootings and American culture and the way she talks about such issues in a cold, straightforward way instigates the everydayness of these incidents, violence and gun culture.

It’s difficult for me to explain how much this novel impacted me and also how and why. I think a lot of people would view this novel differently – I know of people who hated it because of the subject matter and the characters Kevin and Eva. But I think what Shriver has achieved here is an incredibly complex, emotional and harrowing novel. And it’s a novel that everyone should read and consider because, while the material is incredibly distressing, it really does bring up some really import issues that shouldn’t be ignored.

I also watched the 2011 film adaptation, which is a fascinating depiction of the book, even if it didn’t quite reach the same intensity for me. Seriously, though, Ezra Miller is a star and I was definitely disturbed by his Kevin. I think all the critics were right: we’ll be talking about Kevin for years.


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