We Need to Talk About Kevin is a book which is incredibly difficult to describe and yet so easy to. It’s a book about the mother of a boy who committed mass murder yet also about that boy himself. It’s told in letter format to the father, the mother’s estranged husband and it captures the entire childhood of Kevin himself. It’s a book which grew on me, long after I had stopped reading it and it’s one that I have just wanted to talk about.
This book has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve long enjoyed these types of books and both psychopaths and serial killers intrigue me. But on reading it, it was definitely more than what I was expecting. I went in expecting a book entirely about Kevin, just from the mother’s point of view. Instead, I got an incredibly clear picture of the mother, Eva, and her life both with and without Kevin. We Need to Talk About Kevin did not pretend to know what was going on in Kevin’s head but it did show us all that was going on in Eva’s, and that’s, I think, what made it so special.
Eva is a rare character. Often in books about mothers you get the stereotypical, loves their child without reservation woman. Eva is completely different and it is so, so refreshing. Her struggles with bonding with Kevin, her distrust and, later, fear of him feel very raw in her letters to Franklin that it forms and solidifies Eva into a three-dimensional character. The fact she does not actually want children but ends up sacrificing everything that made her happy in order to raise one is tragic (not least the fact that she is a CEO of a company and has to leave that role to raise the kids while her freelance husband gets to keep trotting about with his job) and it’s easy to see why her antipathy for Kevin is so strong. Her relationship with Kevin compared to Franklin’s relationship (admittedly shown through Eva’s perspective) is also quite telling of this. While Franklin fits the bill of that parent who can see no fault in their child, putting them above all else, it comes across as very, very fake. Eva’s relationship with Kevin, while strained, does come across as realistic for their situations, although it could very easily be argued that Eva is an unreliable narrator so the events might not be strictly as she sees them. However, she is relatable and, indeed, the worn out, tired and weary heart and soul of this book.
Kevin, on the other hand, is the dark, twisted sinews and brain. Reading the book, you can’t help but dislike him. The final few pages, however, do but a slant on things and, even now, my opinion of him is constantly in flux. No matter the moment thought, he is still incredibly chilling. As a reader, you only get to see him through Eva’s eyes and these eyes are trained to see the worst in him and it is these worst that you see. Her conviction for his guilt becomes your conviction and it is only when Eva finds herself in the wrong that your own trust in her wavers. From the moment he was born, Kevin was difficult, screaming constantly for Eva yet being the perfect son for Franklin – a trend which continues throughout his life, until that fateful day. There is no way of knowing who the real Kevin is as he wears a number of masks and it varies from person to person.
You might take from this that I really enjoyed this book – the amount it has made me think is certainly a given. But actually, for the first 200 or so pages, I was struggling to get through it. It was only the last 100 pages where I really got thoroughly into the book and I ended it not really sure if I liked it or not. However, as I said before, this book grew on me. I have got a lot more out of We Need to Talk About Kevin in the time spent thinking about it afterwards than I did while reading it. It is this which makes it such a powerful book, I think. It is beautifully written and the way it is written is fascinating but it is slow and I guessed the twist at the end within the first 50 pages. That there is so much more beyond the words is what makes this book work for me.
Finally, upon finishing the book, I did watch the film. It is quite a different specimen to the book. For starters, given the length of time in a film, it was a lot more fast-paced. However, it lacked in that we could not see into Eva’s head, we could only see what was on the screen. Don’t get me wrong, the acting was fantastic, but the depth and unspoken words from the book are missing in the film. I am not entirely sure I would have been able to follow the film if I had not read the book first. I am, however, pretty sure that if I had watched the film first I would have had a very different perspective and opinion of Eva and the rest of events in the book. It is a well-made and haunting film and, even though he isn’t in it too much, Ezra Miller does capture the image I had of Kevin pretty well.
All in all, while We Need to Talk About Kevin did really make me think and continues to fascinate me, it was really difficult to get into and quite slow going. The characters felt real and the events described (and Kevin himself) were chilling. If you’re just interested in seeing what it’s about, the film would probably be enough. If you do want that little bit extra then the book is definitely the option to take.
Book – 4/5
Film – 3.5/5