“We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver (2003) – book review

Read a good while back, and subsequently watched the film starring Tilda Swinton, but now revisiting it in the light of it being the Orange / Baileys’s book of the year for 2005, and to urge anyone who knows not the plot to put time aside for this story.

Certain parts of this book still sit excruciatingly clearly in my mind’s eye, so that has to be a pretty good recommendation all by itself, given the ‘wretched’ recollections I frustratingly cannot bring to mind of some much more recent reads.

I also remember exactly where I was sat in our old flat one Saturday morning while the family slumbered on, hoping to be undetected so that I would not have to move an inch right until the very last page had been turned.

Another retrospective shudder.

The first half, even the first three quarters of this book, left me feeling really uninvolved, keen to carry on yet strangely detached : clearly an excellent tactic on behalf of the author as far as the character of the mother is concerned. I remember wondering as I read what the reason for her writing was, and why she chose to write and not converse directly with estranged husband Franklin – in fact, felt I’d like to have a good chat with him myself as the plot unfolded.

This is an excellent book on so many counts, and it should not come as a surprise to learn this, for the back of the book does indeed warn us that: “Few novels leave you gasping…as if the breath had been knocked from your body. Such is the impact of Kevin.” I have to absolutely agree. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

If you haven’t read it, don’t look anything up or it will be like the fantastic “Foxcatcher” film and ever so slightly spoil the story. But even if you do know what happens, this book (unlike its successor, “The Post-Birthday World”, am sorry to report), is very much worth every minute spent on it. Very, very highly recommended but not for the faint of heart. A top read, although after such un-mitigating rawness, a little light relief on the literary front might well be in order for the subsequent choice of book …

Read in 2011.

Rating : 10/10

Winner of the Orange (now Baileys’) Prize for Fiction 2005

Image taken from here.
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19 Responses to “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver (2003) – book review

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  3. ajoobacats says:

    I loved this book, I’m reluctant to watch the film in case it disappoints.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, I think deep down you might be right. The acting is very good, but there is so much more within the pages that the film could never really do justice to the atmosphere that is created – and the thoughts you cannot help but have while turning the pages. Very glad I saw it a good while after reading the book, but not really a patch on the writing. Loved your review on Millie Marotta’s “Animal Kingdom”!! Nicolax

      Liked by 1 person

      • ajoobacats says:

        Thank you, I am surprised at how popular that review has been. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Wayward Pines on TV after reading the trilogy last year, even though it seems to be a hit with audiences.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kay says:

    I know this is about books – but the lovely Tilda swinton is also fab in a film called I love – fabbbb

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kay says:

    The film called I am love

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kay, so glad to read this – this must be the film where she speaks Italian all the way through and there is a Milan link? Have always been keen to see it – will now hunt it down and watch with joy. THANK YOU. Nxx


  6. FictionFan says:

    Can’t think why I haven’t read this yet – it’s been on my radar for years! Your great review and enthusiasm for it might just be the nudge that finally puts it on to my list… thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Denise says:

    The word “excruciating” is a good one and yes I identify with the frustration that grows throughout the book. Also I skipped loads to get to the end – I think also the atmosphere felt so heavy and so much foreboding that I couldn’t bear it any longer, which is a tribute to Lionel Shriver’s skill, even if it had a rather unfortunate result.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed (if that’s the right word) the book and I thought the film adaptation was very well done too – very atmospheric but much more sparse compared to Shriver’s writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dom Nozahic says:

    Great review as always Nicola – you’ve inspired me to pick this up! Started it yesterday and it’s just great. Looking forward to reviewing it myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dom – you need to be able to carve out a chunk of time to just sit and read once you get to a certain point (you will know when). Strong coffee (or something even stronger, indeed) and let me know when you have finished it. Nicolax


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  13. tomthesnail says:

    I watched the film through to the end then wished I hadn’t – disturbing and unsettling. Until then I had planned to read the book 😦 Still good to read your review 😀 TTS

    Liked by 1 person

    • The book is even worse than the film in many ways because you’re following events “in your mind’s eye”, as it were. I was really in two minds about going to the cinema to see it, knowing what I knew, so completely understand your reticence to read the book now. It’s so very disturbing, I agree, although I do have to say that the way Lionel Shriver writes is terribly impelling (compelling?) and you really can’t put the book down once you start. The feeling of menace is really well done. Like you say, altogether very unsettling. Nx

      Liked by 1 person

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