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We Need to Talk About Kevin Hardcover – 25 Mar 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; export ed edition (25 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582432678
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582432670
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (738 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 79,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lionel Shriver's novels include The Post-Birthday World, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and A Perfectly Good Family. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London.

Product Description


Once in a while, a stunningly powerful novel comes along, knocks you sideways and takes your breath away: this is it... a horrifying, original, witty, brave and deliberately provocative investigation into all the casual assumptions we make about family life, and motherhood in particular (Daily Mail)

This startling shocker strips bare motherhood... the most remarkable Orange prize victor so far (Polly Toynbee Guardian)

An awesomely smart, stylish and pitiless achievement. Franz Kafka wrote that a book should be the ice-pick that breaks open the frozen seas inside us, because the books that make us happy we could have written ourselves. With We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shriver has wielded Kafka's axe with devastating force (Independent)

One of the most striking works of fiction to be published this year. It is Desperate Housewives as written by Euripides... A powerful, gripping and original meditation on evil (New Statesman)

Shriver keeps up an almost unbearable suspense. It's hard to imagine a more striking demolition job on the American myth of the perfect suburban family (Sunday Telegraph)

One of the bravest books I've ever read... We Need to Talk About Kevin is an original, powerful, resonant, witty, fascinating and deeply intelligent work (Sunday Business Post)

A study of despair, a book of ideas and a deconstruction of modern American morality (David Baddiel The Times)

This superb, many-layered novel intelligently weighs the culpability of parental nurture against the nightmarish possibilities of an innately evil child (Daily Telegraph)

Urgent, unblinking and articulate (Sunday Times)

[A] powerful, painful novel... There are true, terrible things said here about family life (Saga Magazine)

A fierce challenge of a novel that forces the reader to confront assumptions about love and parenting, about how and why we apportion blame, about crime and punishment, forgiveness and redemption and, perhaps most significantly, about how we can manage when the answer to the question why? is either too complex for human comprehension, or simply non-existent (Independent)

Pitch-perfect, devastating and utterly convincing (Geoff Dyer)

One of my favourite novels... the best thing I've read in years (Jeremy Vine)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is not a treatise on crime prevention but a meditation on motherhood, and a terribly honest one (Wall Street Journal)

What an amazing piece of storytelling. I could not put the book down. (Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones & Harry Potter actress) Daily Express 2010-07-09)

One of the most powerful books I've read... brilliant (Boy George Elle 2011-06-01)

An original and startling story of family life. A brilliant and thought-provoking read. (Jackie Brown Woman's Own 2011-08-15) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The Orange prize winning, million copy bestseller: now a Serpent's Tail classic, with a new foreword by Kate Mosse --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER on 18 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
Having heard people rave about this book for years, I finally got round to reading it, and I can now see why barely ten years after first publication it is already being described as a 'classic'. It is brilliantly written, deeply disturbing and powerful, and the sort of book you will be thinking about for weeks after finishing, if not longer. I have read other books by Shriver and found her style off-putting, but I barely noticed it here. True, she never uses a one-syllable word when a six-syllable one will do, but you're soon too swept up in the story to analyse the technicalities and it actually works well in context here. It is written as a series of letters from a woman, Eva, to her estranged husband, discussing the 'Kevin' of the title - their teenage son who committed mass murder in a 'school shooting' incident. The actual shooting is not discussed in detail until right at the end, although we know from the start that that is where the story is going. Most of the book is about Kevin, his impact on the family and Eva in particular, from before his conception right up to the present, where he languishes in prison. It is a very unsettling story of a mother at war with her son, narrated with great openness and bitterness.

Eva is not a likeable character, but she is fascinating and well drawn. I was entirely convinced by her throughout the book, and did have sympathy and empathy for her even though she was not one of those characters I deeply loved and cared for. It goes to show it is possible to write an effective first person novel even if the narrator is not hugely appealing to the reader. Likewise, the other principal characters - her well-meaning husband, her passive daughter, and of course the sinister Kevin himself, are pitch perfect.
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82 of 86 people found the following review helpful By S. Hartwell on 30 July 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Schriver is frequently slated for writing a book about motherhood when she is childless. In slating Schriver and in condemning Eva (Kevin's mother) reviewers overlook the fact that Kevin scores highly on the Cleckley checklist used to identify clinical psychopathy and Eva also alludes to all 3 of the classic triad of childhood indicators of psychopathy. She's done her homework in this respect. Kevin evades diagnosis (there is a great unwillingness to diagnose psychopathy in children) and the family are left to flounder with a child whose behaviour cannot be modified with either reward or punishment.

As a mother, Eva blames herself for not bonding with a son who is incapable of bonding or, indeed, of forming normal relationships. She does her best to understand and cope with his aberrant behaviour, but faced with her husband's refusal to acknowlege the problem and his inability to see through Kevin's play-acting, she is out-manoeuvred by her own son. Through it all she loves her son as best she can, but his inability to respond in a normal fashion stymies her attempts to mitigate his behavioural and deep psychological problems.

It takes a while to get into the book, but as the story progresses, it becomes hard to put it down. The real reason for Eva's estrangement from husband and daughter is a twist I didn't see coming until a few pages from it. The final scene, however, seems out of place.
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100 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Tiny Dancer on 19 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is very well written. Contrary to other reviews of this book, I think it is a strength in the novel that Eva does not always inspire empathy in the reader. Eva is a terrifically well rounded, believable and flawed character. The book is in the form of letters to her husband trying to rationalise the tragic killings performed by her son. I think it is in trying to rationalise why Kevin committed such atrocities that Eva questions her role as a mother... is it because she didn't really want a baby, because she couldn't bond with Kevin after he was born, because she wanted a career or was Kevin just born inherently evil?

This book is gripping from beginning to end, thought provoking, funny, scary and sad... well worth a read.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A. Craig HALL OF FAME on 19 April 2005
Format: Paperback
This novel was thrust into my hands by an independent bookseller whose judgement I trust, who said they had all been blown away by it. Actually, I didn't need much persuading because I remember reading Shriver's earlier work, published when Faber had more courage and less accountants, and thinking it terrific esp about Africa.
But this is something else...like Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work, it's about the dark side of motherhood, something most mums experience from time to time but rarely read about. Only this is much, much darker because in addtion to the usual worries career women have about loss of freedom when having a child, Eva's is a Columbine-style killer. The novel is told in a series of letters to her ex-husband, and despite its ferociously dark subject is horribly funny and honest. (The comedy isn't just about reproduction but about politics because Eva is Democratic and her husband, horrors, Republican.)She gets pregnant because she is, basically, bored and too happy - a lousy reason but one I think many people secretly have. Needless to say the birth is a nightmare (without anaesthetic - how dumb can you get??)and Eva probably gets post-natal depression, pretending everything is fine when it is patently not. But the deeper question the novel asks is whether evil is born or made. Kevin has a complete lack of affect, and Eva's husband, besotted, fails to notice this, seeing only "the boy" not the individual. The story darkens and darkens, producing a wholly gut-wrenching twist or two even when you know its outcome.
There are several faults in the narration, not least in its pacing - we get long chapters about Kevin as baby and toddler then jump forwards to his teens. Eva is a snob, and Kevin partly the monster she has created, yet Shriver's gift is that she makes you care about them in the end. A strong contender to win the Orange Prize, in my opinion, though as a work of literature it isn't a patch on Jane Gardam's Old Filth, also shortlisted.
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