We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ll keep this straightforward.

The Book

Book is good. Story: fictional school shooting in America. Seven students, a cafeteria worker and an English teacher murdered. Two years after the event, the murderer’s mother tries to come to terms with her son’s deed by writing a series of letters to her absent husband.

Eva forces herself to be honest about her ambivalence and self-doubt. She questions her innate ability to be a mother. She recounts the unpleasant experience of raising a child who was callous from birth. How much of what Kevin became was biological, and how much of it was her doing? Can a mother be blamed?

This is the story of a family, and its dissolution. I was hooked from the start. The letter-style narrative works wonderfully. Eva’s voice is eloquent and intelligent. Yet the limitation of seeing only through her eyes charges the unfolding events with possible layers of meaning.

Lionel Shriver is excellent with words. I grew deeply envious of her ability to select the opportune word at the opportune time. She was fancy, but appropriately so. She was wordy when it fit and sparse when needed. Her vocabulary is fearsome, but her timing impeccable. She also has a gift for capturing nuance and personal interaction in a way that is refreshing and realistic.

We Need to Talk About Kevin raises a whole lot of questions, obviously, and doesn’t force any answers down your throat. I found the novel overwhelmingly touching, disturbing and marvellous.


NB. If the psychology of the story fascinates you, look up “callous-unemotional” as a childhood diagnosis. It seems to be an emerging topic of discussion.

The Movie

I had high hopes, but frankly the movie disappointed me. Perhaps because the book was so rich, the movie seemed fragmented and inadequate. Tilda Swinton was good as Eva, but had little emotional variation. John C. Reilly’s acting felt forced to me. The dialogue was so sparse that at times, it came off awkward. The cinematography was slow, artsy, spaced with plenty of pauses and close-ups of objects in the scene. I feel that they could have compressed some of those artsy bits and added more substance to the film. The story is told in alternating flashbacks and present-day, but isn’t too difficult to follow.

Casting for Kevin and Celia was altogether good, although Kevin was a little overplayed. Ezra Miller’s Kevin really relished all the stuff he did, whereas in the book he seemed subtler, colder and more restrained. In the end, the denouement felt somewhat rushed. But I’m sure those who watched the movie before reading the book would disagree.



One comment

  1. I’m riveted by this story. I know it’s fictional, but it’s speaks of other truths with school shootings. So many emotions going through me with this book!! I didn’t research, and don’t honestly retain all life’s happenings, but in reading this it made me think and wonder if this Kevin story did happen. Towards the end of the book and I gotta say….it’s all been very well written. My first book ever read by Lionel Shriver….I’ll look for more from him to read.


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