Glued to the page: We Need to Talk About Kevin

January is turning into the Month Free Time Forgot. I love my new job (or at least, I love being an Important Person, which I’m beginning to suspect was why I wanted it in the first place), but unfortunately I’m also still doing my old job, as I haven’t been replaced in the company yet. I’d be busy at this time of year anyway, never mind with the shiny new Monster Journal to contend with. Between this and the bright-and-smiley demands of Relief Society, enjoyable as they are, it’s a wonder I still remember where I live.

Cushions of time are the key. I’m currently filling in slots reading (yes, I know!) a novel that got quite a bit of attention when it was first published: Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. I first ran into Shriver when she wrote an affectionately observant tribute to her father, as part of the Observer’s ‘My Old Man’ feature (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jun/15/biography.features6).

Nothing affectionate about this novel. It’s written in a style that’s been unfashionable for years – the epistolary mode, a series of letters from one person to another – but the premise is modern enough: one day fifteen-year-old Kevin Khatchadourian walks into school and kills seven other students. The letters are written by his mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, as she visits Kevin in prison and tries to make sense of having raised a mass murderer.

There’s something about the way Shriver writes – it’s nastily brilliant. She can express beautifully the way we react to life-changing events, and how we think we ought to react to them, and how we convince ourselves that if we pretend long enough, the conventional response will come true. Her characters are simultaneously vicious and sympathetic – I can’t stop reading it, but I’m reading with my mouth hanging open.

The back of the book jacket promises a twist at the end. I plan to be horrified. But I’ll also be very impressed – this woman can write compulsively about the worst of things like no one I’ve ever seen.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

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