We Need to Talk About Kevin


We Need to Talk About Kevin

Infobox Book |
name = We Need to Talk About Kevin


image_caption = Cover of the American Reprint Edition
author = Lionel Shriver
country = United States
language = English
publisher = Counterpoint Press
release_date = 14 April 2003
media_type = Print (Paperback and Hardback)
isbn = ISBN 1582432678

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, concerning a fictional school massacre. It is written from the perspective of the killer's mother, Eva Khatchadourian, and documents her attempt to come to terms with her son Kevin and the murders he committed. Although told in the first person as a series of letters from Eva to her husband, the novel's structure also strongly resembles that of a thriller. The novel, Shriver's seventh, won the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based prize for female authors of any nationality writing in English. It is published outside of the US by Serpent's Tail.

Character histories

Kevin

Kevin's behavior throughout the book closely resembles that of a psychopath, although reference to this condition is sparse and left mostly up to the reader's imagination. He displays little to no affection or moral responsibility towards his family or community, and commonly distances himself from people to avoid attachment. Kevin seems to regard virtually everyone with contempt and hatred. Eva, his mother, makes frequent attempts to enter Kevin's mind and identify some reason for his detachment and his actions, which to non-sociopaths seem incomprehensible. He engages in many acts of petty sabotage from an early age, from seemingly-innocent actions like spraying ink with a squirt gun on a room painstakingly wallpapered by his mother in rare maps to encouraging a girl to gouge her eczema-affected skin. Rationalization for his behavior is one of the central themes of the story -- when asked the simple question 'Why?' after the massacre, he responds that he is giving the public the excitement and scandal that they secretly crave. Only in rare instances does another side of Kevin emerge, in childhood when he becomes very ill and later, just before he is transferred to an adult prison. In these instances, he displays the simple need for love and comfort that all children seek, as well as an unusual empathy and concern for those around him. It is left ambiguous as to whether this is Kevin's real personality hidden under layers of psychosis, or vice versa.

Eva

Kevin's mother is founder and CEO of the fictional travel guide company 'A Wing and a Prayer'. Her work allows her to travelto many diverse countries, which never quite satisfies her taste for the new and exotic. She is intelligent and educated, emotional, and quite strongly liberal to the point of anti-Americanism, owing partly to her Armenian ancestry and her dislike of the attitudes of rich suburbanites. In a sense her husband, Franklin, is her opposite in terms of personality, although there is a strong chemistry between the two.

Eva has conflicted feelings about becoming pregnant, but desires to give Franklin the family he wants. After Kevin's birth, Eva admits that she did not bond with the child nor feel any of the instant love that other mothers profess. This is, in part, because the newborn Kevin himself resists bonding, refusing even at such a young age to breastfeed and crying constantly, although his every need is met. Eva worries that Kevin instinctively sensed her ambivalence towards motherhood and that this has led to his horrifying behavior.

Franklin

Eva's narration takes the form of letters written after the massacre to her presumably-estranged husband, Franklin. In these letters, she details the events of Kevin's life up to the school massacre, and her thoughts concerning their relationship. She also admits to a number of events that she tried to keep secret, such as when she lashed out and broke Kevin's arm in a sudden fit of rage. Franklin comes across as extremely loving but also intensely short-sighted where his family is concerned. He makes a huge effort to believe that his household conforms to his idealistic view of typical family life, blinded to Kevin's malice and convinced that he has a normal, happy son. Franklin dismisses Eva's concerns about their son and frequently suggests that she is exaggerating or that any problems are her fault. Towards the end of the novel he breaks down under the pressure of maintaining this illusion and asks for a divorce. Kevin overhears this, and in Eva's view, decided to commit his act of mass-murder at that point, in part because he guessed that he would end up in his oblivious father's custody, whereas he actually prefers the mother who he knows can see through him. If he respects one of his parents, it is the strong-willed Eva, with whom he has been engaged in a battle for dominance since his birth.

Celia

Kevin's sister Celia is conceived largely because of Eva's need to bond with another member of her family. Franklin commonly sides with Kevin, once stating, "there's two of us and one of you." Celia, born when Kevin is eight, is different from her brother in every way. Frightened of virtually everything, she relies on her family, Eva in particular, to keep her safe. Franklin, while devoted to Kevin, does not lavish the same attention on Celia, instead he scorns Eva for fiercely protecting her daughter.

When Celia is six years old, she is involved in a household "accident" in which drain cleaner causes her to lose an eye. This is closely linked to an earlier incident involving Celia's pet during which Eva uses a drain-cleaning bleach to clear a blockage in the children's sink. Two explanations are possible: that Eva left the cleaner sitting within Celia's reach, or that Kevin somehow attacked Celia with the bleach. Though never proven, Eva strongly believes that Kevin, who was babysitting at the time, poured the bleach onto his sister's face and frightened Celia into concealing the truth. Later, Celia's prosthetic eye plays a role in the post-massacre narrative.

Major themes

Shriver deliberately avoids arguments about media violence and gun control, to enable her to focus on the relative importance of innate characteristics and personal experiences in determining character and behaviour. (Kevin does not, in fact, use a gun to commit the killings.) The book is particularly concerned with the possibility that Eva's ambivalence toward maternity may have influenced Kevin's development. The novel dramatically explores the nature versus nurture debate but leaves enough ambiguity to ensure that the debate will continue.

Film adaptation

In 2005 BBC Films acquired the rights to adapt the book as a film.cite news|first= Phil|last= Miller|title= Why does this author need to talk about filming Kevin?|url=http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/news/display.var.1688281.0.0.php|work= The Herald (Glasgow)|date= 2007-09-14|accessdate= 2008-05-04] Lynne Ramsay, who became available after she was fired from the adaptation of "The Lovely Bones", was signed on to direct, and was working on a script with "In the Bedroom" writer Robert Festinger by 2006. Shriver was offered a consultative role in the production process but declined, stating she had "had it up to [her] eyeballs with that book", though she did express concern for how the film would capture Eva's role as the unreliable narrator. [cite news|first= Paul|last=Arendt|title= Ramsay needs to shoot a film about Kevin|url= http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1791183,00.html|work= The Guardian|date= 2006-06-06|accessdate= 2008-05-04] Production had not begun by 2007, though BBC Films renewed the adaptation rights early in the year. In an interview with "The Herald" in September 2007, Shriver stated that she had not been in contact with Ramsay about the film for over two years. Ramsay's spokesman told the newspaper that a new script draft was being prepared and, at the time the interview was published, had not been submitted to the producers. "Michael Clayton" producer Jennifer Fox joined the production team in 2008; the film is expected to begin shooting this year. [cite news|first= Stuart|last= Kemp|title= BBC Films has diverse slate|url= http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i7c5c16b2d6b9258ea88d121088522f85|work= The Hollywood Reporter|date= 2008-05-18|accessdate= 2008-05-18] The script appeared on the 2008 Brit List, a film-industry-compiled list of the best unproduced screenplays in British film. [cite news|author= Thomas, Archie|title= Brit List brings scripts to light|url= http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117993429.html?categoryid=2523&cs=1|work= Variety|publisher= Reed Business Information|date= 2008-10-03|accessdate= 2008-10-09]

References

Further reading

* [http://archive.salon.com/books/int/2003/05/08/kevin/index.html Interview] with the author from Salon.com
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/2003_41_wed_01.shtml BBC Radio 4 interview] with Shriver on the book

External links

* [http://www.serpentstail.com/book?id=10758 Information] on the book from the publisher, Serpent's Tail
*imdb title|id=1242460|title=We Need to Talk About Kevin

s-ttl|title=Orange Prize for Fiction
years=2005


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