Libby's Reviews > We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
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Feb 02, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2008-hits, darlings
Read in January, 2008

It's official: I'm in love with Lionel Shriver. First of all, she writes novels that should be gimmicky, but are not. In The Post-Birthday World she employs a doubled narrative that splits in two at its heroine's defining moment of choice/will/agency, what have you. In We Have to Talk About Kevin she goes for the epistolary form. But in both cases, the "device" is perfectly matched to the content, like an igloo (form follows function y'all). The meaning of the novel is bound to its form. Second of all, her prose is fucking delicious. Her language endlessly delights me; it is crafty, artful, funny, acute, and heartbreaking. Third, she writes with more nuance than almost any other contemporary writer I've read (that's you, Kazuo Ishiguro) about the nuances and complexities of human psychology, especially in terms of how people relate to/react to each other. Fourth, no easy answers. Lionel Shriver's work is bold and often crushingly sad, because she is brave enough to explore the various unhappinesses of life on earth without offering pat answers as to its causes. Fifth, she writes about women, messy, arrogant, willfull, meek, submissive, brilliant, dim, WOMEN. God, she's so good.

As far as We Need to Talk About Kevin goes, I could not put it down. The premise is straightforward enough: the mother of a Columbine-style teen-aged killer (the titular Kevin) writes a series of letters to her husband in which she attempts to hash out the thorny questions that their son's rampage has raised vis a vis responsibility for his crime. Eva's letters constitute an amazing dissertation on the requirements of motherhood and its attendant mythology (I think I like reading Shriver's work so much in part because I always come away from it feeling more normal about my own gender fueled ambivalencies). The book dares to suggest the possibility that some people are born bad, are, from conception, simply irredeemable. It also doesn't shrink from microscopically dissecting Eva's faults, and by so doing, fingering her as culpable. As to who or what is ultimately to blame for Kevin, suffice it to say Shriver does not provide the reader with a clear answer come novel's end. Instead, she breaks your heart.
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02/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Alexander (new)

Alexander Metro I too am in love with Lionel Shriver.


Libby Alexander wrote: "I too am in love with Lionel Shriver."

You are a wise man, Alexander.



Aileen Great review that captures my feelings about this book. I think it's a masterpiece. I love the ambivalence about the mythologies of motherhood, the moral complexity, the streamlined and compelling writing.


Kristy Libby, you are bang-on with this review. I feel like you stepped into my mind, grabbed up all the words I would use to describe just how fantastic this book and the author are and then set them out in perfect order.


Tajma I just ordered this novel a few minutes ago and can't wait to read it! I discovered this writer when I read So Much For That, which was fantastic.


Christy I am also in love with ms shriver...this was the first book I read by her, agree, the ending broke my heart, as I sat and sobbed...Next I read a Post Birthday World...while on a cruise and I could hardly wait to return to the book after each days activities, then, The Female of the Species, and For All that, plus 3 others.. she gives us heroic characters in their ordinary lives...i am curious if you have any other authors you love as well, or close. she has spoiled and I'm having trouble finding any equal.


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