We Need to Talk about Kevin won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2005.
It is an incredibly powerful book in which the narrator, Eva, describes the events in her life leading up to the day her son went on a killing spree at his high school.
The book deals with one of the few remaining taboos in our society: a mother, who doesn’t like her own child. She feels invaded by pregnancy, and before her son is even born she is scared of him:
….any woman who passes a clump of testosterone-drunk punks without picking up the pace, without avoiding eye contact that might connote challenge or invitation, without sighing inwardly with relief by the following block, is a zoological fool. A boy is a dangerous animal.
Once her son, Kevin, is born he is a difficult baby. He cries constantly and Eva becomes more and more alienated by him. He grows into a difficult toddler and Eva slowly loses control of him.
Having done much research on ‘spirited’ children, I did, however, feel that some of Kevin’s behaviour was unrealistic. A single child would not have displayed the strange mixture of reactions that Kevin did.
Eva is also supposed to be a powerful, high flying business woman, who must be of reasonable intelligence, so I find it hard to believe that she would accept things the way they were, and make no attempt to find solutions to her problem. She is rich enough to be able to employ any number of psychologists, or even just read a few books on the subject. I don’t really understand why she failed to do this.
Despite these minor flaws, this book was a great read. It was very thought provoking, and would be perfect for a reading group, as there are so many discussions that arise from it. Are all children sweet, innocent things, or are some born evil?
I couldn’t see how anyone could claim to love children in the generic anymore than any one could credibly claim to love people in a sufficiently sweeping sense as to embrace Pol Pot, Don Rickles, and an upstairs neighbour who does 2,000 jumping jacks at three in the morning.
And how much of a child’s actions can the parent be held accountable for?
When you’re the parent, no matter what the accident, no matter how far away you were at the time and how seemingly powerless to avert it, a child’s misfortune feels like your fault.
This a very important book, especially for new parents. It will remain with me for a long time, and I will be encouraging all my friends to read it – just so I can talk about it!
Highly recommended. Especially for reading groups.
Edit June 2011: Rating increased to after realising this is one of my all-time favourite books.