Thursday, August 18, 2011
Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a novel of literary fiction. The version I read was an ebook which was obtained at Amazon. The story itself was memorable, in spite of its inherent disagreeableness: Eva, the narrator, recites the novel as a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin, wherein she deconstructs the unhappy life and eventual deadly rampage of their son Kevin. Kevin is disagreeable from birth, a classic 'bad seed' type. Eva is a cold and suspicious mother. I give Shriver props for the fairly deep and well-drawn characterizations. The battle of wills between Eva and Kevin, and her husband's stunning naivete, were clear and deep, and the stunning denouement inevitable.
However, the book loses some points on two fronts. Firstly, nearly every character in the book is massively unsympathetic. The 'nature vs nurture' debate Eva has with herself on whether she 'ruined' Kevin or not is hobbled by her descriptions of his life as a sociapathic-from-minute-one devil baby. And Eva, in spite of her tiger-mother love underneath it all, really is an egocentric, arrogant cold fish. There simply isn't anyone to root for here, and I think the book needed that.
The book is also filled with pretentious language, and I waffled between whether this was Shriver's choice as a means of characterization for Eva (who really would, I suppose, write that way) or whether it was simply that Shriver herself is the intellectual who just can't help showing off. There were times I groaned, and then had to admit that perhaps a smug mug like Eva really would use that word. And there were other times where I wanted to smack the author upside the head and remind her that real people don't talk that way.
Still, on the content side, it was a compelling read. I'm giving it 4/5, but it's a reluctant 4. It seems like it's worth more than a 3, but I'm not whole-hearted in singing its praises. It's memorable, and in parts very nicely done. But in other areas, it's trying too hard and I'm not sure what to make of it.
As for the book's formatting and presentation as an e-item, I am giving it a 3. The book did have some signs of poor e-proofing, mostly of the 'there should be a space between two words and there wasn't' sort. This is not the most deadly error in terms of the book's absolute readability, but it did occur often enough that I noticed it.