SPOILER FREE. Also a relevant review for its film adaptation.
We need to talk about this book. Everyone talks about this book. And for good reason. It is haunting, disturbing and ultimately sticks with us, and certainly stuck with me, for time to come.
A quick recap of the events: this story is written in epistolary form, meaning that it comes in a series of letters written by Eva Khatchadourian to her seemingly estranged husband Franklin as she discusses her son’s imprisonment for a school massacre and the lead up to these events.
Though I found the novel slow to build, it reads as a thriller when the story of Kevin’s life is interweaved with his mother’s visits to the juvenile prison where he is detained, offering insight into Kevin both before and after his terrible crime. The slow build allows for intrigue and curiosity about the ultimate massacre itself and lets the reader question Kevin’s motives and what in his life led him to that point.
What’s interesting about this novel is the questions it raises about criminal responsibility and nature vs. nurture. The reader is forced to ask whether Kevin himself is a pure sociopath or whether Eva’s brand of detached motherhood led him to a dissatisfied existence that drove him to sociopathic thoughts.
Shriver considers Kevin’s innate characteristics and life experiences as factors in his development and questions who is in fact more responsible for his unfavourable actions: is it his mother Eva or himself, from his own inner qualities. Is Kevin a villain or a victim? A villain due to his own actions or a victim due to the actions of his mother?
It is certainly a distressing and disturbing book that will leave you unsettled, reeling and unnerved. But in my humble opinion, that is what makes a successful author: one who has a profound effect on their reader at the close of the novel. A book that leaves you thinking and questioning and challenged.
There comes a point when you really do question your own sanity in persevering with such a difficult and quite frankly, horrible book. But the satisfaction in completing it – and joining the masses that have – and being able to ask your own questions of the author and the society in which we live makes it rather worth it.
So this is a recommended read of mine, extremely valuable in the canon of crime reading. Along with novels like Gone Girl and Nineteen Minutes, it really gives you the opportunity to consider humanity, responsibility and the blurred lines between villain and victim.
Let me know below if you’ve read it and what you thought! Were you as disturbed by the ending as 90% of readers?