Book Club: We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

November 9, 2011

Image from Book Depository.

After what felt like a long wait, the book club got back together. Because we are all mums, we haven’t been meeting in the school holidays, so sometimes it feels like a while. Even though it was a long break I didn’t manage to get the book from the library even though it was on hold for over 2 months….. does that say something about the book?

So, for the first time since the start of book-club I listened to the book rather than actually read it. Yes, I felt like a bit of a cheat, but I didn’t want to let this one pass….and I had been looking for an excuse to listen to a book-club book for a while now. One of our members ONLY listens to the books and she retains so much. I was keen to give it a try, and now I have. I like it! I think I might even have loved it! Now if I can just get my earphones to say in my ears!!

The first thing to note is that this Lionel Shriver is a female, which came as a great relief to all of us as the book is written from a mother’s perspective and it was a little unnerving that a male author would have such finite understanding of women’s emotions and thoughts. The second point to mention is that the book is a hard read. Very dense metaphoric passages left some of the readers going back over sections to make sure the meaning was fully captured. It also has a full serving of bad language which can be quite confronting to read. Listening to it …I ‘m sure was easier on this ….. it was like a close friend downloading and reminiscing and regretting aloud. Getting things off her chest. Explaining her perspective.

The content also is heavy going. ‘Kevin’ is a story of a mother’s uncertainty before conception and during motherhood…. mixed with a bit of defensiveness about her choices and her lack of action, and lots of what she goes through resonated with us. As I mentioned before, we are all mothers. We came to motherhood with mixed feelings and have felt different levels of ‘success’ across the years so far. Some of us share similar issues to the ones she experiences. None of us have older teens, so we haven’t yet reached some of the years she describes. Kevin has done something unthinkable (I don’t want to give too much away). Something we all pray and hope our children never come close to. But as she describes his childhood the reader is left wondering at what point does a parent seek help. How do we assess if something our child does is ‘normal’ or ‘passing’? Other big questions like ‘Should women who don’t want children have them?’ and ‘Are our children a product of our parenting successes (whatever that means) and failures?’…and lots of other questions and uncertainties.

I wouldn’t recommend it to parents who already lean toward the anxious, because it is unnerving. I, we, began to second guess ourselves in the choices we are making as parents, which at one level is helpful, but can be in itself pretty destructive. It can leave the reader feeling powerless.

Image from Book Depository

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Next month we thought we would lighten it up a bit, while exploring the genre’ of periodical writing. We will be reading ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Scones’ by Alexander McCall Smith. My first of his (I know, I know where have I been…..hiding under a rock?)…. should be interesting.


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