We Need To Talk About Kevin- Lionel Shriver 2003


There But For The Grace Of God Go I.

A strange phrase for me to use to open this review, given that I am an atheist. But I think the sentiment stands. This book is, for me, utterly, completely terrifying, because it is a stark reminder of how my life could have turned out, had I not had the strength and courage to stick with my child-free convictions.

The first time I read this book, I loved it. I was so drawn into Eva's character- her complexities, how she talks, her failings and successes. I could see myself, were I as clever and successful as Eva, writing in a similar style to her. Then those last few pages happened, and they were- unusually- a complete shock. I sat for hours after I had finished it, just processing the cruelty and horror of it. 

I've read it over and over since, and each time it has left me with a creeping cold fear. The last time I saw it was part of the Tyneside Cinema's Book Club, when the film came out, and the discussions were fascinating. Who was to blame for the outcome, why is the outcome so extreme, why why why? People were enthralled by the story, and particularly by Eva. Tilda Swinton was perfect. 
I have been in a situation where it would have been very easy to relinquish my child-free status and just decide to have a child for the sake of an easy life, and to keep the love of my life. But I know that I would have experienced a lifetime of low level resentment which would have had negative effects on everyone. I would make a terrible mother, and this book partly reinforces to me how right I am to acknowledge this, be true to myself, and stick to my child-free guns no matter what. Whilst the outcome in WNTTAK is extreme, its merely an exaggerated version of a truth that is one of the last taboos: some women do not want motherhood. I think Shriver has gone for the exaggeration because it allows some distance from the more terrifying, everyday truth that is just too hard for many to face. 

Eva's heartbreaking situation, her grim determination and potentially unreliable narration, the complexities of who is to blame, the sheer frustration of Franklin's attitude, and above all, the enigma of Kevin all intertwine to produce a stark and devastating portrait of what happens when the family dream doesn't live up to expectation.

I was on holiday once and I saw someone reading WNTTAK by the pool. She was nearing the end. It was honestly all I could do to not go over, take the book off her and say "Leave it there. You're on hoiliday, and that ending will ruin your day."

That's the mark of a powerful, profound book. One which has been and still is, to some extent, life-changing. 


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