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

kevin We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver


Borrowed from a friend

Text Publishing 2006 (first published 2003)

 Synopsis-After her son Kevin massacres several of his classmates, Eva Khatchadourian examines her conduct as a mother attempting to discover if her behaviour led to crimes or if Kevin was by nature inclined to such evil.

 Review- I wonder if anyone would mind if my review for this book is just a succession of one-word adjectives?

Disturbing. Depressing. Sad. Creepy.

That pretty much sums up my thoughts… but if you’d like something a bit more detailed then please read on! We Need To Talk About Kevin is a story about a mother looking back on her life leading up to the day her son massacred his school peers in cold blood.

Initially, Eva had the advantage of role empathy. Who wouldn’t feel bad for a woman who’s son is a murderer? But then again, Eva’s not really that likeable. The first person viewpoint doesn’t do her any favours. She’s self-absorbed, she’s selfish and Kevin, through her eyes, is a major inconvenience… and though she hates to admit it, her biggest failure.

This book was lent to me by a work colleague who said “you’ll like this” and I can see why she thought that. We both work with new mothers, who, often have had a difficult upbringing. In this book, there’s a whole lot of psychodynamic factors going on that I found fascinating. Right from pre-conception Eva wasn’t sure she was cut out to be a mother. It only intensified when her unsettled baby was perceived to reject her at every opportunity, reminding her of why she wasn’t fit for motherhood.

It’s the old chicken and the egg dilemma… was Kevin born a ‘bad’ baby and the disconnect with his mother just exacerbated this… or did Eva’s view of him as a ‘bad’ baby from the outset lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy on Kevin’s part?

Hindsight is an interesting concept that is raised throughout the narration of this book and though Eva indicates she has some retrospective insight, it’s clear she didn’t have any as the events unfolded. There’s part of me that did feel some sympathy for Eva, but it was for the aged, survivor Eva writing the letters, not the Eva who mothered Kevin.

I think most people would find it difficult to empathise with Kevin, particularly because we only see him through the eyes of Eva. But when I think about him as a baby, vulnerable and completely dependent on his mother, a baby who is psychologically punished by his own mother’s unresolved emotional issues, I can see how his own development of empathy could be stilted… or non-existent. He, in essence grows up to be a sociopath. I can’t help but wonder how his life may have turned out had his mother been more reflective and less inclined to misinterpret his every move. I guess we’ll know… apart from the fact that the story is fictional.

Nevertheless, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a disturbingly fascinating story that is thought-provoking on many levels. The author has skilfully dissected the unconscious and deliberate states of a family unit in the context of intergenerational influence.

Overall Rating


“Highly Recommended!”

We Need to Talk About Kevin can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

%d bloggers like this: