lionel shriver


I started this week with other people’s book reviews, so I thought it only fitting that I finish off the week with one of my own.

Today’s review is one I’ve been meaning to write for a couple of weeks now. It was our last face-to-face book club read, and given that my next book club catch up is next week, I thought I’d better get last month’s book off the list.

The novel is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Even typing the title sends a bit of a shiver down my spine…

Some of you might remember me mentioning this book on Facebook over the summer. It took me a long time to get through and I found it very unsettling. I had a lot of trouble putting it down, and many nights I couldn’t sleep for wondering what would happen next. On more than one occasion, I gave up trying to sleep and turned the light back on and read some more. It was an incredible novel and I’m very glad I persevered through it’s unpleasantness to the end.

“Two years ago Eva Khatchadourian’s son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a popular English teacher. Now, in a series of letters to her absent husband, Eva recounts the story of how Kevin came to be Kevin.

Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? When did it all start to go wrong?

Or was it, in fact, ever ‘right’ at all?”

I think it’s fair to say, that this description sums up the crux of this story – who is at fault when such a horrific crime occurs? Was Kevin’s behaviour a result of bad parenting, or was he just ‘born bad’? Is it possible for a person to be ‘inherently evil’ or are we ultimately a product of our environment.

Interestingly, We Need to Talk About Kevin does not answer any of these questions. What it does do though, is provide a very thorough, albeit fictional, insight into the mind of a mother – a mind racked with questions, doubts, self-flagilation and heartbreak. In some ways it also provides a window into the mind of killer, a hypothetical study in depravity. In my opinion, it does this very carefully and convincingly.

There is nothing cheerful about this book, it offers little hope or resolution. It paints a bleak portrait of parenthood, of human nature, and of the overall culture of the USA. But…

I think it is an important book. It is well constructed (albeit a little wordy at times) and it asks some very pertinent questions about how we treat each other, how we assess ourselves, and perhaps most interestingly, the assumptions we make about the people around us.

“I know you doubt me on this, but I did try very hard to form a passionate attachment to my son. But I had never experienced my feeling for you, for example, as an exercise that I was obliged to rehearse like scales on the piano. The harder I tried, the more aware I became that my effort was an abomination. Surely all this tenderness that in the end I simply aped should have come knocking at the door uninvited. Hence it was not just Kevin who depressed me, or the fact that your own affections were increasingly diverted; I depressed me. I was guilty of emotional malfeasance.”

I’m sure this novel is classified in many different ways. It’s a book club favourite, it’s ‘arguably’ women’s fiction, it’s a psychological thriller. To me, it had a little of a horror novel about it, and it is most definitely frightening. In many ways I am very glad that I did not read this book before having children.

While I was reading the book, the film was in cinemas, and it has received acclaim. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it in the future. I’ve heard it said that the casting is beyond perfect, and Kevin’s portrayal is chilling.

So to conclude, this is not an easy book to read, but it is well worth the effort. It is skilful, frightening and will leave you asking plenty of serious questions. It’s great to talk to others about, and will leave most readers haunted and reflective.

Buy your own copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin at the TBYL Store!

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Skipping and jumping through my reading pile

I love the Summer break, if for no other reason than that is allows for a little extra reading time. There is nothing quite as nice as sitting in my reading chair, air-conditioner on, kids otherwise occupied, getting neck-deep in one fictional adventure or another.

Interestingly, this holiday’s reading has taken shape a little differently than usual. Somewhat uncharacteristically for me, this extra time to read over the break has seen me skipping and jumping from one book to another, dipping in and out of a number of different novels in turn. This might sound infuriating to some, but in some strange way it seems to be working for me at the moment – the books are so different from each other, meaning that I can pick the particular story that fits my mood, and then swap to something more serious/adventurous/humorous when I feel like it.

And so, I thought I’d give you a quick run down on the books I’m flicking between…

My main book at the moment is Defender of the Faith, by Chris Allen. I’ve talked about this one before, here and I’m now making some real head-way into the exciting novel.

Very soon, I’ll be having a bit of a catch up with the author of this action-packed thriller, and I’ll let you in on the behind-the-scenes of this book. I’ll follow this closely with my review and another chance to win a copy for yourself. If you’re curious to check out this book, you can actually get a copy of the first twelve chapters of the novel for FREE! Check it out here.

The next title is a re-read, and it’s a particularly important one for me because it’s the TBYL Book Club’s book for January. I’m re-visiting Sonya Hartnett’s Of a Boy, and putting together some ideas for our discussion about the book at the end of the month…questions and talking-points that should get some good conversations going. I’ve talked to a few people who’ve just finished this novella, and they seem to have been quite moved by this rattler of a book. You can join the TBYL Book Club here, and buy the book here.

The next couple of books are, for me, something quite different (again). They’re two youth fiction novels, one of which I’ve been able to share with my eleven-year old son.

Firstly, is Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan (Pan MacMillan). A dystopian tale of space travel, romance and survival, this story for older teens seems to have been well constructed, nicely told, and set well to establish an engaging, ongoing series.

I’ve almost finished this book (it’s a quick read) so I’ll review it early next week.

Next is Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes – Fire Storm (Pan MacMillan). The forth in the Young Sherlock series, this novel is suitable for 11+ year olds and so, rather than have it sit ideal until I had a chance to read it, I had my son Evan read it first.

He seemed pretty impressed, read it pretty veraciously and has now gone a bit crazy for all things Sherlock. I’m looking forward to reading this, I’d expect it wont take me too long to get through and it’s nicely timed given the revival of Sherlock on big screen and small.

On a more serious note, the book that I’m reading for my (off line) book club at the moment is horribly haunting. The group has agreed to read We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver for our next catch-up and it’s hard going. There is a lot of talk at the moment about this disturbing story, due to the release of it’s film version.

A mother’s story, telling what it is to face absolute and undeniable shame and horror in your own child, this book has been ominous from the outset, and I’ve no doubt it’s only going to get tougher.

Lastly, I’ve a most luscious-looking novel in the reading pile, taunting me to start reading it. I’m resisting until I get through Of a Boy, but then it’ll be time to delve into Makeda, by Prue Sobers.

This story promises to take me on an Ethiopian adventure, travelling with the beautiful and spirited Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. Romance, intrigue, and royalty, it has it all.

Keep an eye out, I’ve a couple of signed copies to give away later this month!

It’s quite a list I know, and my head is spinning a little bit. But it’s spinning in the nicest possible way, as I skip from war-torn Africa, to suburban Sydney to the depths of outer space, I’m enjoying the narratives, the diary-entries, and the dramatisation of these compelling adventures. What better way to spend a Summer?!

I hope you’re having a chance to have a bit of read, and don’t forget, it’s not too late to sign up for this month’s TBYL Book Club…we’d love for you to join in!

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