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We Need to Talk About Kevin [Hardcover]

Lionel Shriver
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (676 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Mar 2003
A stunning examination of how tragedy affects a town, a marriage, and a family, for readers of Rosellen Brown's Before and After and Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World . That neither nature nor nurture bears exclusive responsibility for a child's character is self-evident. But such generalizations provide cold comfort when it's your own son who's just opened fire on his fellow students and whose class photograph--with its unseemly grin--is blown up on the national news. The question of who's to blame for teenage atrocity tortures our narrator, Eva Khatchadourian. Two years ago, her son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Telling the story of Kevin's upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. 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? We Need to Talk About Kevin offers no pat explanations for why so many white, well-to-do adolescents--whether in Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, or Littleton--have gone nihilistically off the rails while growing up in suburban comfort. Instead, Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaux of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy--the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

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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 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (676 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 355,080 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Description of Clinical Psychopathy in a Child 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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97 of 104 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story 19 Jun 2007
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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102 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating food for thought 14 Oct 2005
I read this book after a review piqued my interest and I wasn't disappointed. This is a portrait of a family tearing itself apart, because the parents have a diametrically opposite view of what children, parenting and family are all about.
While Franklin holds the idea of family up as a holy grail, the highest purpose that anyone can have, Eva regards family as being something that you do aswell as everything else rather than a calling.
I was very surprised at the harsh judgement Eva received from reviewers - it's true that Eva's view may not be entirely unbiased, and her actions less than perfect, but she is a human being after all. Being a mother does not make you perfect, as Loretta Greenleaf says. As a woman I found that her feelings, particularly her anxieties during pregnancy, seemed to echo my own worst fears: that her body ceases to be her own, that others will regard her as a vessel for the precious offspring rather than a person in her own right. Except in Eva's case these are realities and not just fears.
We can't help our feelings and though Eva's feelings towards her child may not always be the best desirable, she tries hard to fight against them. She doesn't actively mistreat Kevin, except on the one occasion when she loses her temper - something that many parents understandably do.
I was equally surprised by the fact most people seemed uncondemnatory of Franklin, who seemed to me to share equal guilt over the sad state of affairs. His attitude towards his wife both before, during, and immediately after her pregnancy is astounding in its callousness and inflexibility.
His Holy Grail attitude to family seems to rely on his wife totally sublimating herself and her life to the cause of 'the family' while he continues as normal.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars powerful, haunting, disturbing - a must-read 19 April 2005
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love it
Not an easy book, but a stunningly ambitious one. I am glad I read it.
Published 2 days ago by T. Leunig
5.0 out of 5 stars I do not know what is worse. Read it before you become a mother or ...
Gripping and chilling. I do not know what is worse. Read it before you become a mother or after... Read it all the same. Read more
Published 2 days ago by BookLover
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but ..............
I'd heard about this but knew nothing about it when I bought it, nor had I read any reviews. It's centered on an awful story and I guess the writing style was supposed to magnify... Read more
Published 4 days ago by paj
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever written - the film didn't do it ...
One of the best books ever written - the film didn't do it justice! Highly recommended and great storytelling. Very believable characters - horrible son!
Published 4 days ago by Sue'sViews
2.0 out of 5 stars Heavy Going
Still plodding my way through it. I came highly recommended but I am wondering if I am reading the same book!
Published 6 days ago by Mrs. Chris Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
interesting read
Published 9 days ago by lily church
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
Still reading it. Some of the words are "American" so I'm not always quite sure what they are referring to... but it doesn't spoil the reading. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Val2010
5.0 out of 5 stars ... a child who I could not or did not love. Now I know
I always wondered what I would do if I gave birth to a child who I could not or did not love. Now I know! Read more
Published 15 days ago by Mrs J Mallett
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Took me a,while to get through this book but I did enjoy it and the ending came as a surprise. Very well written I would recommend.
Published 16 days ago by bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars loved it
Took a while to get into the style of telling the story by letters, but once in I was hooked.
Published 19 days ago by Mrs. Gillian A. Mcfadyen
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