We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Book vs. Movie)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the darkest books I have read in awhile. Kevin, Eva and Franklin’s first-born has killed eleven people while he was in high school and now serving time at a boys correctional facility. The story, which is likely to be one of every parents’ nightmare scenarios, is told by Eva through her letters to Franklin and we can see Eva questioning herself over and over again, is she responsible for Kevin’s vicious acts? Could she have prevented it? Is she a bad mother? I wish I could have told her the answers to her questions are no, no, and no.

When Kevin is interviewed on TV after his massacre he says he murdered those people because if not for people like him the world will be a boring place. Eva and Franklin are average parents, but Kevin’s lack of remorse tells me that even if he was born to the World’s Best Parents the outcome would have been the same.

It is true that Eva sometimes comes off as a cold person, as newspapers would later accuse her. However, throughout the story, I felt empathetic towards her. When Kevin was born, Eva was the one who stayed behind to look after him, despite the fact that she was a successful businesswoman running her own travel company, whereas Franklin was a freelancing photographer. I understand why Kevin’s actions would frustrate Eva – he is a difficult child since he was an infant, refusing to be breastfed (although not uncommon) and crying for hours at a stretch during day time driving away nannies to the point where Eva and Franklin would get blacklisted by companies that offer nanny services, making it impossible for Eva to go back to work for a long time. But I feel Franklin’s attitude towards Eva’s frustrations did not help Eva either. Whenever Franklin is at home Kevin would play the role of an adorable kid and respond to him, and I realize that is why Franklin did not pay much attention to Eva’s complaints. Yet I can not fathom his inability to see beyond Kevin’s version of things, be it an accusation by the police or a sexual harassment complaint brought by Kevin against a teacher in high school. It pained me to read how Franklin accused Eva of being responsible for the loss of Celia’s – their daughter’s eyesight, without even considering malice on Kevin’s part. That moment, I wished Eva would just take Celia and go away, leaving Franklin to deal with his precious Kevin, but it did not happen. As Eva would later write in her letters the idea of leaving never crossed her mind for she loved Franklin deeply, although they did not see eye to eye when it concerned Kevin. I guess one can call Franklin naive for falling for Kevin’s manipulations, but as much as I hate to admit it, at the end I realized why he was so blind. In Franklin’s eyes Eva was prejudiced against Kevin, so I believe however foolish it was Franklin was just trying to make up for whatever love he thought Kevin did not receive from Eva. Eventually, when the real Kevin appeared in front of Franklin, it must have broken Franklin’s heart into bits.

When we read stories of criminals, we sometimes wonder about the parents who raised them. While it is true that sometimes it is the negligence of the parents that create these monsters, it is just as possible that those criminals were bad seeds. The life of these parents will never be the same again. Even if they are not at fault, like Eva, they will be beating themselves up for the rest of their lives. It might be difficult to remember that they have lost so much too, especially if you are a parent or a loved one of a victim, nonetheless, I believe they deserve our compassion, for this is one of the saddest, hardest things a parent will ever have to go through.

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Eva’s attempt to bond with Kevin, a dinner which goes terribly (Image credit: IMBD)

Out of the movie adaptations I have watched, I can easily place We Need to Talk About Kevin film at the top. I would say it stays true to the book 95% of the time. There are times when the movie is slightly different from the book, but they do not matter in the large scheme of things. Most of the dialogues in the movie are straight from the book, so the movie retains the boldness of the book. However, most of Eva’s reflections in the book which I found to be very insightful are understandably not there in the movie, and that is the only downside of the movie I saw.

Verdict

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a well-written book, however disturbing the subject is. Eva’s story is a brutally honest narration and she does not shy away from her shortcomings either. Although this is a work of fiction, it is Eva’s honesty that makes this book read like reality, which could have been a reason why it won Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2005. So if you do not mind graphic details, the book is the way to go. 🙂

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