We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver


We Need to Talk About Kevin

kevin2Author: Lionel Shriver

First Edition: 2003

Original language: English

Awards: 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction


We Need to Talk About Kevin is an epistolary novel, written as letters from Eva Katchadourian to her husband Franklin in the wake of their son’s killing 11 people at his school.

Kevin’s actions have completely destroyed Eva’s life.  In the wake of her son’s killing spree, Eva has had to sell her beloved travel guide business, has lost both her house and her family, has been sued in civil court for being a bad parent, and is an outcast in the town where she lives.

Eva’s letters to Franklin tell the story of their relationship, how they decided to have Kevin, and the boy’s life –from Eva’s perspective.  She also talks about her visits to Kevin, who is currently serving out his sentence and seems unchanged by the whole experience.


“A child needs your love most when he deserves it least.”

“I see now what they mean by ‘holding your head high,’ and I am sometimes surprised by how much interior transformation a ramrod posture can afford.”

“How lucky we are , when we’re spared what we think we want!”

“This is a dynamic particular to encounters with male drivers, who seem to grow all the more indignant the more completely they are in the wrong.”

“I gulped a glass of sauvignon blanc; it tasted like pickle juice.  This was wine without you.”

“A petty one, but most resentments are.  And one that for its smallness I felt obliged to repress.  For that matter, that is the nature of resentment, the objection we cannot express.  It is silence more than the complaint itself that makes the emotion so toxic, like poisons the body won’t pee away.”

“But if I extracted one lesson from my tenth birthday party, it was that expectations are dangerous when they are both high and unformed.”

“[S]o much lying in marriage is merely a matter of keeping quiet.”

“In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable.”

“’[D]iscomfort,’ a term beloved of the medical profession that seems to be a synonym for agony that isn’t yours.”


I can’t really say that I “liked” this book as much as I was touched, struck, horrified (?) by it.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is the kind of book that your mind keeps drifting back to just to make you uncomfortable.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it is a book that makes you feel the way Eva does: trapped, afraid, hopeless, like you are losing your mind…  I love it when a book can evoke such a strong response in me, and this one certainly did.

Another thing that I love is that since the book is written in the form of letters to Franklin, it is written mostly in the second person, which is extremely difficult to pull off.  However, when, as in this book, a writer manages to pull off the second person narrative, the story seems to touch the reader in a different way, perhaps because books in this POV are rare… Julio Cortázar’s Aura comes to mind.

A fantastic read that is difficult to put down and difficult to forget.


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