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This was an incredibly powerful book for me on so many levels. I repeatedly felt a sense of guilt as I read through Eva's letters to her husband sensing that these were too personal to share, amazed at her level of complete honesty. At many times, Eva said things that I myself have felt but have never shared or, if I have, those feelings were presented in a much more palatable way. The naked and raw language employed by Lionel Shriver only added to that intimacy. Eva questions her role as a mother, and specifically her role as the mother of a child who has committed a mass school shooting and wonders whether she was, in some way, responsible for this heinous act. And then, just as I was settling in to this most unsettling of books, a Sixth Sense-like twist jarred me from my comfort zone and made it perfectly clear why this book won the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. Magnificent.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is the 8th novel by Lionel Shriver. The format is a series of letters written by Eva Khatchadourian to her absent husband, Franklin, which are a sort of analytical reminiscence about their lives before the arrival of their son, Kevin, their reasons for having a baby, the prelude and then the immediate and long term aftermath of Kevin’s actions on that fateful Thursday two years previous. The Thursday consistently referred to in italics is when Kevin murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a popular English teacher. Eva examines the events of their lives trying to ascertain if and how she may have been at fault for Kevin’s actions, and what his reasons for them may have been. It is a very one-sided analysis that, at some points, will have the reader sympathising with Eva, whilst at other times she comes across as a selfish, self-centred, often thoughtless, opinionated snob. There is some black humour, but on the whole, the subject matter precludes this. It is certainly not an easy read, both for the subject matter and the writing style, which starts with long convoluted sentences, but the final chapters make it well worth persevering with. Shriver address many issues: the nature or nurture debate; the hysteria caused by school shootings; why people decide to have children; what constitutes negligent parenting; is there anything you cannot forgive your children for. The story is skilfully crafted and I did not see the twist at the end coming. Shriver effectively conveys the experience of the forgotten victims of these mass murders: the family of the murderer. The sense of tragedy is strongly communicated. This novel left me with an overwhelming feeling of sadness.