“Was our life together that unbearable?” – Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin
As part of my 2018 reading challenge and following the prompt “a book by a female author who uses a male pseudonym”, I read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (born Margaret Ann Shriver), which was released in 2003. This book had previously sparked my attention when the film adaptation came out in 2011 but it had remained on my bookshelf untouched.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fiction novel told in a series of letters from Eva Khatchadourian to her husband, after their son Kevin commits brutal murders in his school. In her letters, she recalls their life as a couple and as parents but she also explores the idea of motherhood and tries to understand what could have pushed Kevin to kill and her responsibility in his cruelty.
As a mother, I tried to put myself in the shoes of Eva. I must admit that I also asked myself those same questions when I fell pregnant for the first time at 30 years old: Will I be a good and loving mum? Will my husband and I find time for us? Will I have a social life? Will I manage to find a balance between my job and my personal life?
In the book, Eva thinks her maternal click will come when the baby’s born but she becomes quickly disappointed. Then follow pages of parenthood denial, hostility between mother and son, an accumulation of misunderstandings, lies, unspoken words, and an overwhelmed family life.
Lionel Shriver is very good at analysing the issue of maternal love and everything a woman must deal with when she becomes a mother. So much pressure and expectations that I actually felt when I became a mum myself.
How much should a mother be responsible for the actions of her child?
After reading the book, I couldn’t stop thinking of the TED Talk of Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, when she says “Every time someone asks me, “How could you not have known?”, it feels like a punch in the gut. It carries accusation and taps into my feelings of guilt that no matter how much therapy I’ve had I will never fully eradicate. […] I know my struggle doesn’t make theirs any easier. I know there are even some who think I don’t have the right to any pain, but only to a life of permanent penance. In the end what I know comes down to this: the tragic fact is that even the most vigilant and responsible of us may not be able to help, but for love’s sake, we must never stop trying to know the unknowable.”
I am not going to lie, this book upset me big time. To be honest, I don’t think another book has upset me that much.
Not only was I shaken by the tragic shooting perpetrated by Kevin but also deeply perturbed by the unhealthy mother/son relationship from beginning to end.
I couldn’t put the book down and even when the time came to actually close it for good, I buried my face in my hands and it took me a good 30 minutes to process what I had just read and felt.
A few days later, still haunted by the book, I decided to finally watch the film adaptation with Tilda Swinton as Eva and Ezra Miller playing Kevin. Omg, even more upsetting.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of these books which will haunt you for life.
It’s definitely a firm favourite, a 5-star read but also a hard one.
Tweet me your thoughts if you have read it!
☆ did not like it
☆☆ it was ok
☆☆☆ liked it
☆☆☆☆ really liked it
☆☆☆☆☆ it was amazing