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compelling but flawed
on 25 December 2007
At one level, I found this a compeling read. Unlike many here, I managed to finish it, and I did not find the style distracting or over detailed. Eva is clever and opinionated and, yes, insufferable and snobby, but in many places (if not in others) she is plausible. The wider story - which is probably best read as a sort of parable - is intimately drawn, the teleogical style hiding a neat twist (which came to me as a relief, since otherwise the format and the style of the letters was not, even in the story's own terms, convincing). Kevin, like Franklin, draws and commands our attention even if, on closer scrutiny, they are too black-and-white, too two dimensional, too much like pantomime characters. Like any other liberal critique of liberalism, the book gets caught up and largely nullified by its own conclusions - if there are any. Shriver seems to me to brilliantly parody a society that must ask WHY and be answered, even when some situations and outcomes have no WHY. The true horror of Kevin is rather like the true horror of Orwell's 1984: Obrien teasing Smith with the discovered journal entry `I understand how, I don't understand why?' to which Obrien remarks, `because there is no why' Yet the impact of this nnialism is lost when, in fact, Shriver can't help put pose the why again at the end, and in the final scene, struggle to offer us an explanation which robs Kevin of much of his fictional dynamism.
In other senses the work has flaws. Though a personal account, Franklin is so ludicrious in places as to beg wider questions as to how or why Eva would have married him in the first place. Even on this side of the pond, a fraction of Kevin's antics would have landed him in some sort of therapy. Although the book is about the banality of evil, it needs to remain plausible within its own structure, its own universe, and in many places it fails to do that. Nonetheless, it is a thoughtful and well written book on a subject that will not go away - so hugely more useful than Vernon God Little.
Finally, I thought it odd that so many people, presumably women, critisied the author for writing about this while not having children of her own: the entire point of creative, imaginative writing is indeed to imagine, and if experience is essentialised over skill, much classic literature would immediately be dismissed - Wuthering Heights for a start!