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We Need to Talk About Kevin [Hardcover]

Lionel Shriver
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (632 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: 23.9 x 16.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (632 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,477 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

Review

"'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 '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" --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
72 of 75 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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94 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story 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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142 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read 13 May 2005
By Brida TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I saw this book on BBC1's Page Turners and so decided to buy it. This novel is absolutely brilliant, I cannot recommend it enough.
The story is narrated by Eva, in letter form, as she writes to her estranged husband. Eva's son, Kevin, is in a juvenile detention centre, as at the age of 15yrs he went on a killing spree at his high school. He killed 7 fellow students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. Through Eva's letters, the reader is taken through Kevin and her story, going right back into their past, even before Kevin was born. As Eva spills her heart out onto the paper, you are struck by how she is debating the point of just how to blame, if at all, she is for Kevin's actions.
The exploration of the past, especially Eva's relationship with her husband, brings up many areas of life and truth that are often not spoken about. This, I think, is why this novel is so good; the book is not just about Kevin's terrible crime. The dynamics of Eva and Frianklin's relationship are also explored, both as a young couple and as a family once Kevin is born.
This novel really does stay with you long after you have finished the last page. The ideas, suggestions and debates it raises are complex and intriguing, something to really get your teeth into.
This is a great book, one of the best I have read, and that really is saying something.
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99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating food for thought 14 Oct 2005
Format:Paperback
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book
Gripping from start to finish, this book had me on every page. The sentiments are so real you can taste them.
Published 1 day ago by Miss K Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
Captivating with an extraordinary twist in the tail. Though provoking and an essential read for the 21st century. Leaves you breathless.
Published 4 days ago by Mani29691
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Hooked from first chapter the twists throughout made the book one of the best I have read in a while
Published 4 days ago by Ahem Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars really liked thisxxx
i really liked this book.coyuldnt put it down.was much better than the film.as you wondered what was gouing to happen next thanks janexxx
Published 4 days ago by Jane Lloyd
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing
How can a child turn out to be so cold and calculating?
This story is disturbing on all levels,are the parents responsible for producing this weird boy or is he a product of a... Read more
Published 6 days ago by willow
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Brilliant Writing!
The subject matter of this book is highly disturbing. There's nothing I've read or watched recently that has made me feel quite so ill-at-ease than this book and it is definitely... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Miss Scarlett
5.0 out of 5 stars a tough read
Probably the most difficult, disturbing book I have ever read. Not the best bed time reading. But I did enjoy it
Published 11 days ago by johnevs
4.0 out of 5 stars popular
very fashionable book, I had to have it, all mymates are reading it.Love reading it during my gap year trip.
Published 15 days ago by Mr. Stephan Stahl
5.0 out of 5 stars We need to talk about
slow to start, but the pace quickly develope, as realisation dawns, well written, beautifully paced, sensitive use of tension a really thought provoking read.
Published 18 days ago by Helen
1.0 out of 5 stars TYPICAL SICK MOTHER
Eva is a too common ego driven mother. The whole book was quite well scripted, but the subject was distasteful. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Anne Wotana Kaye
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