Saturday 4 March 2023

Review by Sushma Bragg of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

"Could I have done something differently?" "Could I have prevented my child from doing this?" "Did I not love him enough?" These are some of the fundamental questions that a parent asks themselves at some time or another on the parenting journey. In the case of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shriver uses the format of a unique correspondence of letters to her husband, Franklin, explaining and justifying her misgivings about Kevin from a very early age but which have fallen on deaf ears. Her frustrations come across clearly that Franklin does not take her concerns seriously. The outpourings of a mother’s anguish and guilt resonate with the reader, especially if the reader is a parent.

Eva is a woman trapped by her manipulative and psychopathic son, who claims to everyone else that he is misunderstood by his vindictive mother. She tries to raise awareness of the problems that were blatantly obvious to her and only her. 

Shriver explores the manipulative and unspoken war that is waged by Kevin, cleverly and covertly against his mother - to the extent that Eva sometimes begins to doubt herself. Shriver displays the cold-hearted character of a psychopath expertly in the character of Kevin right from birth to mid-teens.

We unfortunately hear of incidences of school shootings and we devote our heartfelt sympathies for the victims and their families. However, in this book, Shriver has flipped the coin. We are witnessing the anguish of a mother, who herself has lost her child too (and much more) but with the added unspeakable and intolerant burden of being the mother of a perpetrator who has caused the unbearable heartbreak to so many people. We see how one grieving mother brings a civil case against Eva on the grounds of "Parental Negligence." They blame Eva for creating this "Monster."

I think Shriver’s book is a compassionate and realistic account of the torment and guilt of a mother who holds herself responsible for the actions of her child. Could she have done more? Could she have prevented these atrocities that she knew deep down would inevitably unfold? It’s a superb novel, seeing these events from the perspective of the killer’s mother, who is  victim herself of her son’s actions - and probably the most important victim in Kevin’s eyes. Did he do what he did, solely to punish Eva? Was Eva his main Target? This is one of the most disturbing and shocking yet thought-provoking books I have read: "I thought at the time that I couldn't be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that's a common conceit, that you've already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe." 

About the reviewer
Sushma Bragg is a mature Creative Writing MA student at the University of Leicester. After a break of 35 years, she has returned to her love of all thing's literature. She writes professionally for a marketing company and is currently writing a composite novel based on her family.

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