Parenthood. Discuss.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

An outstanding novel powered by what so few novels manage to achieve: authenticity. Kevin’s detractors complain that they find it impossible to believe how a mother could feel so coldly towards her son, as does Eva in this novel. But I enjoyed the book precisely because I found that so believable.

It is perfectly reasonable that most mothers love their progeny (although I would argue that few love them unconditionally, which is almost always a tautology). But within the complexity of human nature and experience, let’s face it: there will be some parents who dislike their kids, who hate them, whose paternal relationship lacks love from both sides, and who feel distraught that their crime is among society’s unmentionables. Anyone who argues that it is unnatural for a mother not to love her son misunderstands nature, which is messy and experimental and never, ever immutable.

So I found Eva to be not just believable and authentic but utterly captivating for the way she represents a phenomenon (no matter how small) that must be true but is also vilified to the point of being ignored. This is the central reason why Kevin works so brilliantly. It is truly fresh and wonderful.

But there are a great many other things right with this book. The prose is lucid and witty. The plot is tightly controlled and delicately threaded – winning the effect of gripping the reader. I was lucky enough to read the novel while on a break; if I was supposed to be working, I would have had to fudge the time sheet.

Kevin is a stunning novel with a shocking dénouement. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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