Posted by: Ele Quigan | August 27, 2010

‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ Lionel Shriver

I don’t like putting things off, while a bit of a ‘headinthesandaboutthingsIdon’twanttodealwith’ is more common than I’d like to admit, I don’t like that I do it. Which brings me to this review – the review I didn’t want to write, about a book that I still don’t want to even think about.

I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, since old flatmate of mine very much sung its praises a few years back, and I’ve seen its glowering cover on bookshelves in shops since 2005.

The subject content is horrific, focussing on a high school massacre done (done? What is the right word for this? Completed? Organised by? None of these phrases are impactful enough…) the protagonists’ son Kevin.

Trying to understand why, our protagonist is writing letters to her husband, going from Kevin’s birth and through his childhood, reflecting on their life, her decisions, his responses to her style of motherhood in some cases to ascertain where blame lies and in other cases to lay it squarely at his feet.

It raises questions around nature vs nurture, are some children born bad? What really is the outcome of crippling post-natal depression? and even leaves you to ask what would you do if faced with a situation such as this? Did he do it to get the attention he always craved? Did he do it to show the world he could? Did she love him? Did she hate him?

I’m still thinking about the book a couple of weeks later, and I have been dragging my heels in writing up my thoughts on it as I didn’t want all these negative feelings brought back up again. I was having trouble sleeping, asking my boyfriend ‘what if we had a child like this? What would we do if I had post-natal depression?’ so much so I wish I’d never read it – so the last thing I wanted to do was write commentary on it.

In saying all of this – the book is incredibly well written. The literary style as always drew me right in, at times finding myself wanting to read until all hours, even if the content left me lying awake even longer questioning my own thoughts and opinions. While it sickened me to the core (even more so than ‘Less than zero’ by Bret Easton Ellis) I can’t deny its literary worth.

I couldn’t bring myself to read it again, and I’ve hidden it in my book collection so I don’t even have to see its cover. I’m terrified of childbirth now, terrified of hating something that could take over my body mind and soul in such a negative way. Without giving away the end, I still can’t work out if all the shock and horror and polarising opinion is around the content of the last chapter or the last couple of lines. (As both are twists in some way).

I was so glad to put this book away, and then I realised researching this review, that they are making a movie of it.

A movie.

Oh my god a fucking movie.

Here’s the proof…

A couple of interesting links I found in seeing what other people thought of the novel
A Guardian article by the author
An interview with the author
Farmlanebooks Blog Review



  1. I gave this to the charity shop as soon as I’d finished it – but not to get it away from me, but because I thought it was awful!

    I couldn’t stand the book – I didn’t believe in the characters at all. the mother was completely shallow – as a mother there was nothing at all I related to in the way that she voiced her feelings (and I was actually suffering from depression after I had my daughter).

    I felt that the whole thing was very sensationalist. trying to make a profit out of a difficult and contraversial subject without really getting properly into it.

    And the whole ‘twist’ passed me by completely, as I’d guessed it so early on, that I thought it had actually been mentioned at the start of the book, LOL

    I read it with some friends though, and we seemed to separate into two groups – those that had children, and those that didn’t. And it was odd as none of my friends are very mumsy, so it’s not that they would be shocked by anyone not wanting their child. It just didn’t feel realistic!

    I’m not sure what made us feel different to my non-parental friends!

    • That’s really interesting, I’m not a parent, but I can see what you mean about the mother coming across as extremely shallow. Have you read ‘The Slap’? Misogynistic bullshit aside, I’d be interested in your opinion on how they portray child-rearing in that.

      • I haven’t heard of that one…maybe I’ll stick it on my ever-growing ‘to read’ list. Do you think it’s worth it?

  2. A movie. Good lord.

    I found this book disturbing and upsetting to the extreme. Until I found out that Lionel Shrivers does not have any children.

    This information then totally (perhaps unfortunately) invalidated her perspective for me and since have been unable to give this book any credibility.

    Which on one hand is a shame, because I am sure that her writing struck a cord with many despairing desperate mothers out there.

    On the other, I think I was so keen to invalidate what this book contained, that I was going to cling on to anything to make it a little less brutal. Jury is still out for me.

  3. I can see what you mean Marie – my quirky typically Ele take on that is I’ve heard a bit about mothers who resent their children (and even moreso of husbands, becoming jealous and whatnot) and it’s such a passion point that there must be some validity to it, whether she has children or not. The last sentence cut me up a bit too, leaving me wondering how ‘truthful’ her portrayal was in the first place… Did you see her comments in the Guardian article by her as well? ‘What could be worse than mothering a teenage killer? (It’s been observed that any author who could write this book had never been seriously considering having kids. Fair point.) By the end of the novel, I had scared myself witless. I still have no children’

  4. […] book i’ve never finished called ‘So much for that’ by Lionel Shriver (famous for ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ which outlines what the American health system is like, there are Reddit threads, articles, […]

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