We Need To Talk About Kevin. We Also Need To Talk About Where My Book Is.

We Need To Talk About KevinNothing invokes excitement and then indignation like finding out one of your favourite books that you think would make an interesting movie is, indeed, being made into a movie and that said favourite book is, in fact, missing from your bookshelf.

The book in question is Lionel Shriver’s award-winning and eminently controversial We Need To Talk About Kevin, and a film starring Tilda Swinton as the film’s tortured, complex protagonist and narrator is reportedly going to air shortly at Cannes.

Had I been able to, I would have given myself a reading refresher of the book before writing this blog. Given the book’s fraught, finely woven, hair-raising themes (stop reading now if you haven’t read it and don’t want to hear its major premises before reading it or viewing the film), someone reading this blog likely to be up in arms by the mere fact that I said I love it.

Note to those up-in-arms people: Please hold fire on the emails about how Shriver is the anti-Christ and her book will forever burn in hell. I don’t have a direct line to Shriver. Besides, pretty sure she’s heard it all before.

Among the myriad complaints people have about WNTTAK (sorry, but writing it is exhaustapating for my fingers on this cold, wintry eve) is that the book is based around letters a woman is writing to her absent husband about their son Kevin. Simple enough stuff, except that Kevin has perpetrated a Columbine-style massacre at his high school.

Double FaultThe woman/mother/I’d use her name but someone has made off with my copy of the book is both now Public Enemy #2 (after Kevin). As well as copping abuse from the community, which include splattering her house and car with red paint, she’s abusing herself over whether it’s her fault that Kevin did what he did.

The book complaints range from the fact Shriver may or may not be being insensitive to those who’ve experienced Columbine (or any of the other number of the school shootings that have taken place over the years) to the fact that she’s not herself a mother and couldn’t possibly understand.

I don’t think there’s much merit to either of these complaints, and think people are offended simply because Shriver’s written the things we’ve all thought but daren’t say, and because she’s done such a good job of  it that it cuts, er, a little close to some people’s bones.

Shriver is renowned for her extensive research, and it’s clear she was obsessed with the themes underpinning this book and went out of her way to understand, inhabit, and challenge these issues and this tale.

WNTTAK wrestles with such elusive, big-picture questions as whether evil is inherent or acquired throughout our lifetimes, why parents can’t ask for or receive help when they really need it, what warning signs are there before such a massacre, and how responsible parents are for their children’s actions.

They’re worthy, difficult questions and Shriver handles them with gloves-off fierceness and intensity, making the book at-times tough to read but one that simultaneously leaps off the page.

You don’t raise WNTTAK in general conversation or loan it out to someone without knowing its mention or return will be accompanied by a long, passionate, philosophical discussion about the nature of good and evil and life as a whole.

Note to whoever I ‘loaned’ the book out to: Please return it. We can, like, talk (about the book).

While I hadn’t spent hours pondering who best to cast in which role, I have to say I think Swinton is the impossibly perfect choice for the lead. Her ability to play austere, ambitious, intelligent, strong, and simultaneously fragile with a spareness of action and emotion (if you’re still with me—perhaps that description is off the wall) will see her inhabit this ‘bad mother’ character and bring her to life exactly how I’d seen envisaged her in my head.

Because meeting my expectations is clearly all that matters.

But enough confusing rabbiting on from me. You can catch some snippets of Swinton’s efforts and the film’s look and feel via these three trailers. Complain if you will: I’m breathless with anticipation of the film’s release and am hoping to locate my missing copy of the book in the interim.

Final notes:

  • If you want to talk complaints, mine is that WNTTAK is Shriver’s best book. Double Fault is decent too, but the others don’t hit quite the same compelling chord.
  • I’m sorry I used so many ( ). I couldn’t help myself.

Published by

Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.

2 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About Kevin. We Also Need To Talk About Where My Book Is.”

  1. My copy is gone too! What’s going on? Anyway, yep certainly a good book for discussion and not one you forget in a hurry, hence how we can both talk about it despite someone making off with our copies…I found the book was clever, and fascinating and compelling and it will no doubt make a terrifying movie, but I was disappointed by it simply because Kevin did not behave like a real baby, or boy or teenager (maybe you could argue we only see the mother’s perspective and that’s why). But for me, because he’s not drawn as a very real personality the book can’t shed any light on the real reasons why these terrible things happen, and what parents in these situations are really like. So yes she’s allowed to write a thought-provoking novel about the nature of evil and love…but it doesn’t sit well with me to novelise such terrible situations without genuinely helping us to understand them better. That’s my 2 cents. Still an important book to talk about though.

  2. Totally agree, Sophia! I kept thinking he was cast a bit too much like a psychopath from the outset. I think he would have been naughty, but this wasn’t really in the realm of naughty kid turns bad. I hope you find your copy soon, or we might both need to buy new copies!

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