This Is Not a Review.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Meh.

I’m instating a new type of post: The Not Book Review! I recently started We Need to Talk about Kevin, the critically acclaimed novel-now-turned-movie by Lionel Shriver. Two weeks later and only 79 pages in, I’ve since quit. Therefore, I’m not really equipped to review it honestly or in its full form, which is why I’m calling this a not-review.

Kevin is the story of a high school shooter as told by his mother, Eva, through letters written to her since estranged husband. I was so excited to read it, seeing as it’s a different subject matter than I’m usually drawn to, and it was getting such high praise. It’s also more ‘literary’ fiction (as opposed to popular fiction), which means I didn’t have to feel ashamed whenever I read it in public. But finish I did not. Yesterday I emancipated myself from that responsibility, realizing the only reason I even got as far as I did (in such a depressingly long time) was out of respect for the author. It pains me to think someone spent a chunk of their life writing a novel this unappealing.

So why didn’t I finish? Because I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, I don’t like Eva. Surprisingly enough, it’s not because she never wanted to be a mother in the first place, or that she’s always hated her own son on some level or another. It’s more the clarity and frankness with which she speaks of it (and the annoyingly precocious vocabulary she uses, too!). Here is a woman who keeps claiming she’s stuck in this unsatisfying life of shame post-massacre, and yet, there’s no attempt to get herself out of it. She’s the person who revels in her own self-loathing and self-pity. And she wallows with such lucidity it’s astounding – at least once on every one of those 79 pages I felt like slapping her. I don’t care if it’s “well-written” or “deep”, or even plotless. I just want something I can grasp onto in a character that will keep me reading. Hey, I’m all for reading unlikable characters! But in the end Eva’s just plain unrelatable .

That’s pretty much all I can say, having gotten as far as I did. This isn’t a “don’t read this book” not-review. It’s a “proceed with caution” not-review. You may love the twisted narrative. You may not. You may feel like a terrible person for abandoning it not even a quarter of the way through (mostly because the reviews on the back cover make it sound so amazing!). If you like, and to give you more of an idea about whether you should try it, I’m going to close with a particularly astute (if not, verbose) passage. Truth be told I actually like it, which makes me feel all the more crappy about quitting so early in the game. (But okay, let’s just stop talking about it!)

Franklin, I was absolutely terrified of having a child. Before I got pregnant, my visions of child rearing – reading stories about cabooses with smiley faces at bedtime, feeding glop into slack mouths – all seemed like pictures of someone else. I dreaded confrontation with what could prove a closed, stony nature, my own selfishness and lack of generosity, the thick tarry powers of my own resentment. However intrigued by a “turn of the page,” I was mortified by the prospect of becoming hopelessly trapped in someone else’s story. And I believe that this terror is precisely what must have snagged me, the way a ledge will tempt one to jump off. The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it. – page 32 (Harper Perennial, 2006)



11 responses

  1. I can’t bring myself to finish Moby Dick. The last time I drudged through an awful book it wasn’t worth it and I actually threw it in the garbage once I finished it! I also haven’t read the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series because I don’t want the story to ever end.

  2. Interesting Non-Review Debs! I appreciate your honesty about not finishing a book, and think it’s a good topic to be open about. Be gone, shame!

    With that said, I feel I may get some meant-to-induce-shame judgements upon revealing that the third most recent book I haven’t finished (besides text books) is the fifth in the Harry Potter series. I’d started reading the series for the first time this summer. Then fall came, classes started, and I had too many other books to not read, so I didn’t get past the first finger’s width of pages of The Order of the Phoenix. Hopefully someday I’ll return to it.

    I also haven’t finished a delightful book written by one of the profs from my very own university – this wasn’t due to dislike or disinterest, but again, to a new semester starting. And now, over reading week I started a book called The Lady Queen, about 14th century queen Joanna I of Naples, Jerusalem & Sicily who defended herself – in LATIN – at her own trial when accused of murder. It’s much like a textbook, but more interesting than any of the ones I’m SUPPOSED to be reading, and yet I fear it too will fall to the wayside come Monday and the re-start of classes….

    • Stef, you’ve gotta finish HP! I only started them in May myself, so I speak from recent experience when I say they’re worth finishing!
      Mostly, though, it sounds like if you ever want to finish a book you’ll have to quit school – or maybe just finish it before you start another book.

  3. I’m one of this type of woman… I’m terrified by the idea of having a child… Maybe the problem is that you just dont relate at all with the caracter, and maybe you just cant think that she could be real. For me, at least that part of the novel has a lot to do with me. I’m about to get married and everybody is already asking me for a kid and I just never saw myself as a mother (also my family has a history of bad deseases – like vitiligo , cancer and depression -, and I’m scared of making my kid suffer). Anyway, the point is: the kid of the main caracter is a murderer and she kinda saw it coming and did nothing and think it was her the responsible for it (She never liked him or he was just impossible to like anyway?). I dont know… But there are people in this world that are not heroes, that did not learn how to get out of the victim zone, you know? That is it. Pardon my English! Luv your blog! I’m always here, reading, just never wrote anything! 😉

  4. P.S: I’ve just seen the movie, and I’ve read the novel (Did not like, but the problem was not the caracter… The problem was that I did not like the letters thing. Did not like the way it was written).

    P.S: I’ve learn by reading Franz Kafka that reading a book that does nothing to us is a wast of time, a waste of life.

    • Nicely put about the ‘victim zone’ thing! Maybe that’s what got under my skin about Eva? I appreciate your honesty, though. I don’t think it’s wrong to not want kids! You might feel that way your whole life, and you might change your mind one day. Either way it’s fine, as long as you stick to your convictions about that.
      Thanks for reading – we really appreciate it!

  5. I found this review through a Google image search. I was trying to find a photo of the cover. haha

    Must say, I had the same reservations about Eva. I trudged through this book. It took me two months to read, which is over twice my average for a book this length. But I’m glad I finished. You know how you often hate in other people what you hate about yourself? Well, she and Kevin have a lot in common, and it becomes more apparent as he grows up. Also, the last chapter or two redeems a lot about the rest of the book. It was NOT an easy read, but I’m glad I finished.

    • Interesting. I figured that’s where it was going, but I just couldn’t sit through the rest of it. I identify with that feeling, though, when you finish a book and you’re glad you did. Some stories are just like that – they end better than they start.

  6. Pingback: We need to talk about We Need To Talk About Kevin « Entertainment Omnivore

  7. Im reading the book right now and I can’t put it down. Im loving the character Eva, I love how completely honest she is about her feelings towards mothering this child. I think these feelings are something so many mothers go through even if their child isnt a sociopath but are ashamed to admit to.
    I also feel like this is something any good mother who was the mother of a sociopath would do, blame herself and question herself, maybe I didnt love him enough, its all my fault. The book is basically her scruitinizing every single detail, event and emotion of their lives and how these led to her child committing mass murder.
    Eva seems to think she was a terrible mother, but I imagine it might not be very easy to love a child like Kevin. Is non stop screaming baby Kevin responding to an unloving mother, or is a mother responding to an unlovable child? Nannies couldn’t seem to stand him either. Working with children I understand how difficult it is to listen to a child scream and not be able to help them stop.
    It seems like Eva’s husband never supported her and thinks his parenting skills are superior to hers. But Eva knew there was something wrong with her child, her husband had no idea. I find the whole book fascinating. I can’t wait to finish it! I’m going to go read it now!

    • I’m glad you enjoy it! I see Eva with a bit more compassion now that I’ve watched the film and know how things end. And you bring up some really good things to think about regarding her character. Thanks for the comment!

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