This post is the first in a series of posts where I’ll be talking about writing based things that I love. They may be books, movies, TV shows, inspirational quotes and blog posts – or anything else to do with writerly creativity.
This year the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction asked readers to nominate a book, written by a woman that they found inspirational and impacted on their life in some way, using the hashtag #thisbook. The results of the top 20 nominate books was announced recently and I was not in the least bit surprised to find one of my all time favourite novels to have made it in at number fourteen.
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver is an incredible novel. It is very dark, is not for the faint hearted and centres around a high school massacre perpetuated by a teenage boy (the eponymous Kevin). However, the story is not about the event itself but is primarily an examination of the relationship between Kevin and his mother Eva. Motherhood is assumed to be something inherently natural and Shriver poses the difficult question of what happens when a women, uneasy with the idea of pregnancy and motherhood, has a child? In this sense the book itself is a reflection on the nature of parenthood, whether it is nature or nurture that determines who we are and asks really tough questions about what happens if we don’t love our children – or more accurately can we still love our children even if we don’t like them?
Neither Eva nor Kevin are portrait as outright villains in the novel and it’s brilliance lies in the ambiguous nature of their relationship. Does Eva not bond with Kevin because he is disturbed or is Kevin disturbed because Eva was unable to bond with him? Each of the characters in the novel act as a rorschach test and I don’t think I ever came across a novel so nuanced in its approach that readers can have completely different understandings of character and plot without those elements losing any of their complexity.
As a novelist Shriver is not a sweet or beautiful writer. She never shies away from the better demons of our nature and characters, while never being archetypal ‘bad guys’, are always hard to love. In this respect, Kevin is by far her best work. I truly believe that it is a modern classic which will be remembered long after we are all gone. Like many classics, however, there is a strong love/hate element, to the novel (much like Catcher in the Rye, On the Road etc). Some people to whom I’ve recommended the book loathed it with the same level of passion in which I love it. That in itself, I feel is enough to suggest that everyone at least try reading it and be their own judge.
So how about you? Have you read this book? What did you think? What are some of your favourite things?