Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Book review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

"We Need to Talk About Kevin", by Lionel Shriver, winner of the Orange Prize 2005, is a disturbing read but a riveting and compelling one, nevertheless. At the root of its story is the age-old debate of "Nature vs. Nurture".

Kevin appears to be a troubled child. His mother saw traces of a monster in him right from the time he was in diapers. Although he gets good grades in school his social skills leave a lot to be desired. Also, he doesn't appear to get joy from his everyday life. All his time is spent just trying to make his family unhappy. His mother Eva, who had great difficulty bonding with him as an infant, now wonders if her lack of maternal instincts/skills when Kevin was just a little baby had a bearing on the sociopath he was turning into, or whether he was just born that way? What makes this book bold and different is that the author has tackled a question most people don't wish to ask themselves or others--- does indifferent parenting change the course of your child's life or does he or she have a destiny that is decided at birth?

When Kevin commits the ultimate crime, Eva lays out all her thoughts and guilty feelings in a series of exquisitely-crafted letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. Writing a novel entirely in letters is a hard thing to do, but Shriver pulls it off beautifully. But this novel isn't just about parenting skills or the lack of them, it is a psychological thriller with a climax that took me by surprise even though there were so many clues leading up to it.

I predict this is a novel that people will either love or hate. It is bound to provoke some very strong reactions because it deals with the last big taboo in our modern world---that maternal love need not be unconditional. Are you prepared to swallow that whole? This book is the ultimate book club pick; I hope my book club decides to read it soon.