Review: „We Need To Talk About Kevin“ by Lionel Shriver

We Need To Talk About Kevin is an epistolary novel in which Eva Khatchadourian (Kevin’s mother) recapitulates the story of Kevin’s life – from the point on at which she and her husband decided to get a child, during her pregnancy, Kevin’s childhood and adolescence until the day she now only calls Thursday, when Kevin did something so horrifying it changed the life of his family (and not only theirs) forever.

WNTTAK

I have to admit, I went into reading this book with completely erroneous expectations as to what the novel was going to be about. One reason might be the fact that I was reading it as part of the „syllabus“ of the #YearOfHorror bookclub established by chapterstackss on youtube – hence, I was expecting it to be a horror novel, which for me always includes a supernatural element, otherwise I personally tend to classify it as a thriller. Therefore I assumed that the eponymous Kevin would be a boy possessed by a demon or some other external force that made him evil. Instead, the story does not offer a clear-cut explanation for Kevin’s behavior, be it psychological or supernatural. The reader is confronted with a cruel and sadistic character treating the people around him with intelligent malvolence. Just because.

Kevin seems to be carrying with him a great deal of coldness and hatred towards the world has such and especially his mother even as a baby. In the years to follow he does not only scare away one nanny after another but also every potential playmate and their parents. The only one not creeped out by him is his father, who clings to seeing his son as the perfect all-American boy with whom he can play baseball and visit history museums. Kevin’s capability to keep up this illusion of the ideal son works to underline the inventive cruelty with which he treats other people – even his little sister, who, after all he is doing to her, still puts childish trust and loyalty into him.

You can only punish people who have hopes to frustrate or attachments to sever; who worry what you think of them. You can really only punish people who are already a little bit good.

There are scenes in this book which will probably haunt me for years to come, and at times it was difficult for me to continue reading because I was already preventively horrified of what Kevin would do next; afraid of how Kevin always managed to find out what exactly could be the worst thing he could do to a person. Regardless, We Need To Talk About Kevin has become one of my favorite books, because it is so much more than simply a mindless stringing together of sadistic acts!
This novel made me be immensely emotionally involved and made me feel for people, all of which are not even really likeable. Lionel Shrivers way of writing is dense and at times complicated (our letter writer, Eva, is intellectual bordering on pretentious, and her letters and choices of words display this excellently), she oscillates between writing out cruel truths bluntly and directly and hiding them between the lines. In this way, the book pulled me in, and as hard as it sometimes was to read on, it was even harder to put the book down.

So many topics are mentioned in the book, like motherhood, guilt, responsibility, American-ness, and so many different opinions on said topics that it provides endless food for thought. All in all, We Need To Talk About Kevin goes far beyond being „just“ a book about a priviledged teenager committing a massacre and I highly recommend it!

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