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We Need To Talk About Kevin [Paperback]

Lionel Shriver
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (694 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2005
WINNER OF THE ORANGE PRIZE read more Interactive online message board now live - visit here Reading group questions here (but don?t spoil the plot!) Read an extract --------------------- Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian?s 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? 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

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail; New edition edition (1 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852428899
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852428891
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (694 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 331,858 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


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)

Few novels leave you gasping at the final paragraph as if the breath had been knocked out from your body. Yet such is the impact of We Need to Talk About Kevin ... by American writer Lionel Shriver. It is a provocative, hard-hitting book that carries an extremely powerful charge, but which is certain to polarize its readers (Book News)

In crisply crafted sentences that cut to the bone of her feelings about motherhood, career, family, and what it is about American culture that produces child killers, Shriver yanks the reader back and forth between blame and empathy, retribution and forgiveness. Never letting up on the tension, Shriver ensures that, like Eva, the reader grapples with unhealed wounds (Deborah Donovan Booklist)

...Shriver's fascinating, painful meditation on motherhood-as-regret (Time Out New York)

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

Just as Eva wrestles with her own conscience, we as readers must grapple with our simultaneous revulsion and attraction to such crimes. There are no answers here, no pat explanations. Shriver doesn't take an easy way out by blaming the parents. Instead, the novel holds a mirror up to a whole culture. Who, in the end, needs to talk about Kevin? Maybe we all do (Boston Globe)

Shriver has skilfully hit the bulls-eye on two best-selling targets in the American market: the fear of rampage killings by teenagers at school, and the guilt of working mothers... The novel explores but gives no simplistic solutions to the horrors of copycat killings, the choices before women combining careers with rearing children, or whether evil can be innate (TLS)

My beach novel of choice is Lionel Shriver's book We Need to Talk About Kevin - a tense account of a mother who gives birth to a child she unapologetically dislikes from the start, and who grows up to be a teenage mass murderer - although the book serves only to reinforce what I already knew: that it is unreasonable, not to say unnatural, for adults to be expected to like all children just because they are small (Judy Rumbold Guardian)

A superb book, challenging and thought-provoking, with a shocking twist at the end and degree of redemption that leaves you literally stunned (New Books Mag)

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 2005-06-06)

A great read with horrifying twists and turns (Marie Claire)

Shriver's graceful and detailed prose is reminiscent of Don DeLillo, while the story is perversely gripping (Morning Star (New Zealand))

A chilling yet compulsive book that'll keep you hooked until the very end (Yorkshire Post)

This powerful novel uncovers the disturbing truth behind a mass killing at an American high school... There are true, terrible things said here about family life that most of us would leave unspoken (Saga Magazine)

Shriver's novel is a timely one... Nature or nurture? Shriver leaves it to the reader to decide in this powerful cautionary tale (Belfast Telegraph)

This book deservedly won this year's Orange Prize. It has the page-turning compulsion of a thriller and the fascination of a psychological study. But its main strength lies in its ordinariness. Far from feeling that nothing like this could happen to families like ours, the author makes it all entriely believable and possible. There but for the grace of God we could all be harbouring a Kevin (YoungMinds Magazine)

A macabre thriller, with a heart-stopping, heartbreaking ending, Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin is an entrancingly written novel that understandably won the 2005 Orange prize for fiction (Disability Now)

...taps into unspoken fears of maternal ambivalence that are not easily acknowledged and do not fit neatly into glossy magazine notions of female empowerment (Guardian Unlimited)

Hugely engrossing (Diva)

Powerful novel...shocking and insightful (Sunday Tribune (Ireland))

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

A study of childhood psychosis that should come with a health warning (Guardian)

Most wanted (Alison Steadman Sunday Express)

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

At a time when fiction by women has been criticized for its dull domesticity, here us a fierce challenge of a novel by a woman 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)

It is a book about the dangerous distance that exists between what we feel and what we are actually prepared to admit when it comes to family life. (...) It is a book about what we need to talk about, but can't. (...) Shriver's satire on child-centered families captained by adult buffoons whose intellectual, not to mention erotic, life is in pieces, could not be more timely. Motherhood, even in our liberated world, is still a process of requisition, of appropriation that feels more painful perhaps because there is more to appropriate (Guardian Weekend)

Harrowing, tense and thought-provoking, this is a vocal challenge to every accepted parenting manual you've ever read (Andrew Morrod Daily Mail)

'[An] intelligent ending and such important themes' (Independent on Sunday 2005-03-20)

Highly original and beautifully crafted novel (Good Book Guide)

[A] powerful, painful novel... The ending Shriver chooses will shock many readers in these policitcally correct times that take for granted the innocence of children and the corrupting culpability of adults. There are true, terrible things said here about family life that most of us would leave unspoken (Saga Magazine)

I think it is 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 (Ireland))

A shocking, sometimes funny and unputdownable novel (Sunday Business Post (Ireland))

Shriver's surprise bestseller has been hailed for exploding unspoken taboos, such as non-maternal feelings towards "nine-month freeloaders". More interestingly, she exposes the pantomime of family life in which kids are just a desirable consumer product (Guardian 2005-03-12)

Lionel Shriver grabbed the Orange Prize, a raft of headlines and a well-merited name for taboo-busting provocation in her fictional bad mother's handbook (Boyd Tonkin Independent)

Compelling account of parental feelings in extremis (Nicholas Clee New Statesman)

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 an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 82 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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99 of 106 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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105 of 114 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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37 of 40 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 Dark, unsettling and memorable
I haven't read a book quite so chilling since Ian Banks' The Wasp Factory. Equally gripping, with many more much needed subtleties. Excellently written and well worth a read.
Published 7 hours ago by ejminney
5.0 out of 5 stars read it
Not a light hearted read serious stuff boy did good be ready to feel a lot of anger at the f~~~~~ up system he was placed in<children safe in care you havin a laugh,read it .
Published 13 days ago by p.valentine
2.0 out of 5 stars Shriver writes in blood but she does not entertain
We need to talk about Kevin Lionel Shriver
978 1 84668 734 1

Her prose aroused in me that despair and irritation that prefaced evening prep and the profound... Read more
Published 15 days ago by JPSreviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 17 days ago by Janet Handcock
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a great read.
Everything that has been written about this book is deserved. It's a great read.
Published 20 days ago by flee
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast delivery, thanks will use again.
Fast delivery, thanks will use again.
Published 22 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 22 days ago by M WEINSTOCK
4.0 out of 5 stars Certainly gave food for thought. Was Kevin as he ...
Certainly gave food for thought. Was Kevin as he was because he was just a difficult child or was it because his Mother
Rejected him or because his Father although he tried... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Jenny JG
4.0 out of 5 stars loved it.
Sometimes the way it's written can go off on a tangent. But a very enjoyable book. Couldn't put it down
Published 28 days ago by Northside
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read. So well written
Excellent read . So well written.
Published 1 month ago by e warrington
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