Posted by: Natalie | April 16, 2012

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I shall hopefully keep this brief after my previous diatribe about the book. My opinions, I am sad to say, altered little. I found the final 30 pages the most interesting in this particular journey, but getting there was hard going. Over the weekend I discussed this particular novel with girlies over a glass of wine or two (a much needed change to my social habits!!), some had read the book, others not. I found that fellow readers had similar feelings to me, that throughout you felt the almost uncontrollable urge to shake Eva Katchadourian. Hard. And if incapable of doing so to a fictional character, shake the book until she fell out of the pages for you to rage your angst against.

My guilty wants for destruction were not sated. The crucial moments were a quiet disappointment really and not merely because they were delivered with little feeling. The ending letters which construct the death scenes, are delivered in a slight monotone report at first, which is understandable given the writer’s need to distance herself from such harrowing events. But there are a good few pages where Shriver seems to have forgotten that her narrator wasn’t actually present to recount in such detail. The flow of the story at this point feels slightly abrupt because the voice changes – granted it changes into a more engaging one, but it is unsettling for a reader having devoted many an hour to one particularly, droney and self-pitying voice. However, just as abruptly excuses seem to come as to how the narrating Eva can possibly know such details. I understand that a media circus following such a crime will undoubtedly pull a lot of minor details to the fore, but it simply does not account effectively enough for the changes. It feels more like a convenient escape for someone backed into a corner. Ironic actually.

Yet I am not proposing anything better – I wouldn’t know where to begin. What Lionel Shriver has done is rather brave. She has attempted to de-construct malicious events and histories to try and organise a nation’s thoughts. No one really understands the reasons behind mass killings in the work place or at school, there always has to be a reason found in order to comprehend, regardless of how ludicrous it may be. Fundamentalism, anti-depressants, neo-Nazism, Satanic cults, God, bad parenting, boredom, all cited as potential tipping points on the scale of normal-to-pyschokiller. Shriver goes a long way to suggest that these reasons are just as ridiculous as medical labels we wish to slap on badly behaved children or the obese. Society is desperately trying to cover up what it even more desperately doesn’t want to admit; sometimes things just happen. Sometimes, a child is just plain naughty. Sometimes, you eat too much. Sometimes, children are born with maleficence in their hearts. Sometimes, there is no reason. And this is what we can’t cope with, this is what Eva Katchadourian couldn’t cope with and set to writing her letters in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Because without recapping and analysing, she may never have reached such acceptance.

But here I am slipping – she is a work of fiction. During my weekend discussions, I realised that I don’t feel able to recommend this book. Yes it must have some important merit to have won prizes etc etc etc. I just don’t buy it. I would see the film however. I am remarkably interested to know how they have pieced this together and what ‘voice’ they have given to Tilda Swinton as Kevin Katchadourian’s mother. I have the impression that it may glean more emotion from me as a visual piece, although I did have a fleeting moment of heartbreak towards the end of the book but it was so quickly washed over I felt cheated. I think that’s one of my problems with the book, the narrator and her world are so completely different to anything I know, that I find it very difficult to connect. Perhaps in film this connection can be forged? Who knows?

What the book has done for me however, is it makes me want to return to the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for ColumbineThe Columbine shootings, along with many others, are referenced throughout the book and were one of my first understandings of teen shootings. I remember watching the film and vesting my anger in Wallmart for selling ammunition, in the parents for clearly not steering their offspring in a healthy direction, in the media for almost glorifying such horrors with its whirlwind of attention. What I would like to do, now, is return to that film and watch with different eyes. Watch with a sense of trying to understand rather than chastising all other influence without a second thought. Nature and nurture will be an eternal battle which I know can never truly be answered but will ultimately lie at the heart of any atrocious crime, as depicted by Shriver.

Certainly though provoking and infuriating, but mainly for all the wrong reasons. Possibly one to leave in the library.

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