Orange Prize - 2005

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is the story of a marriage with children. Eva, the wife, writes letters to Franklin, her husband, after they are separated. The focus of her letters is the fact that their son, Kevin, killed a teacher and several carefully handpicked students at his high school.

In my opinion, there are several compelling aspects to this book. The first is Kevin himself. He is presented as a difficult baby who grows into a difficult child who becomes an even more difficult teenager. He's overtly sullen and withdrawn toward his family, and the tension this creates in the family is almost palpable on the printed page.

The second is the dynamic between husband and wife. Eva recognizes the elements in her child's personality that make him so difficult to love. Franklin prefers not to see just how troublesome Kevin's behavior is, and because Eva loves Franklin so much, she allows his judgments about Kevin, no matter how improbable, to override her own misgivings time and time again. Lionel Shriver displayed tremendous skill at accurately depicting Eva's I'm-onto-him attitude vs Franklin's boys-will-be-boys way of looking at Kevin's behavior. And when Kevin's actions resulted in huge consequences to those he chose to toy with, Shriver continued to keep that precarious balance going between the two parents with Franklin's evaluation always keeping Eva's suspicions just under the radar.

The third compelling aspect to this book is Eva herself. She is a successful business woman who has a strong entrepreneurial background. She took the germ of an idea for a travel guide and built it into a strong business with her personal touch continually keeping the company on the path she'd chosen for it. She is smart, educated, familiar with numerous cultures throughout the world, and her conversations, no matter what the topic, are never dull. That's the business side of Eva. The wife and mother side are completely different. That smart, savvy, knowledgeable businesswoman simply doesn't exist in a familial setting. For Eva this causes years and years of frustration. For the rest of the family it creates an us-against-her atmosphere. Little by little this erodes whatever relationship these people share.

In my opinion, this is an excellent book. If the reader is looking for reasons for how or why something like the Columbine massacre happened, this book can provide some insight. For me, while I realize that was supposed to be the point of the book, I was just as fascinated by the family dynamics and what that quietly explosive situation finally produced.


    Great reivew, and I liked how you summarized the aspects, and I agree with you. It was the second aspect that intrigued me the most.