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We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

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?

Cover art.

A Paper Town for a Paper Girl: Paper Towns Book/Movie Review

NOT SPOILER FREE. 

The hotly anticipated follow up to The Fault in Our Stars (though in no way a sequel, the only relation is their authors, producers and screenwriters, but nevertheless, it is a follow up) was a film that I was pretty much desperate to see. It checked off all my top requirements:

  • A John Green novel that I adored (probably my second favourite after TFIOS, though Will Grayson, Will Grayson is close behind)
  • Nat Wolff
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Screenwriters that I trusted to faithfully adapt a book
  • Nat Wolff

Though this adaptation strayed slightly more from the novel than TFIOS (with some scenes left out and new concepts brought it) it nonetheless pretty much stuck to the plot and featured key moments and quotes that book lovers will adore.

What I like about Paper Towns is that it’s not the cliched happy ending so many ‘teen’ movies give us these days. If you hadn’t read the book, how many of you were expecting Q and Margo to run off into the sunset together? Raise your hands. I’d say a solid 70% of people were expecting that ending. But it’s not realistic. That doesn’t always happen in real life.

So many people talk about the manic pixie dream girl trope when discussing this book/movie. Let me break it down for you: the manic pixie dream girl is a character (usually female) that has no discernible talent or motive of her own and serves only to make the male protagonist realise something about himself. To an extent this is true for Paper Towns; Q does walk away from Margo with a better sense of who he is and who he wants to be. But he also realises that Margo is not the manic pixie dream girl he has built her up to be: she is not his miracle.

The beauty is in the details, that sometimes imperfection is more perfect than perfection itself. This is precisely why I’m glad Cara Delevingne was chosen as Margo. Cara is not a model because she’s flawlessly Halston Sage beautiful; she’s a model because she’s got a unique, striking beauty. Through no fault of her own, except her undeniably good genes, Halston Sage is far too beautiful to be Margo – she had to be Lacey, the character who is all the perfection that Margo is not.

Margo’s true beauty is her mystery, her personality, her magic air. That’s what Cara embodies, whilst Halston reflects the opposite kind of beauty: surface beauty. Though I’m sure Lacey Pemberton had a lot more to her than flawless hair, her surface beauty serves to show that if you put Lacey next to Margo, they’re totally different people and what makes Margo stand out and be so attractive to her peers is her mystery and her complexities. Which completely draws her away from being a manic pixie dream girl.

As Lacey and Q say, Becca has become the New Margo… only no-one could ever be the New Margo.

Though I’m a little sad the backstory between Q and Margo was left hanging and we never got to see her crosshatching stories of Little Q and Margo, the Crimefighters, the goodbye was the essential farewell. Accepting the truth and finding the consequences.

I love this story because it was so realistic and so true about first loves. We often build people up to be so much more than they are, and this way, you get a glimpse at what happens when happy ever after doesn’t quite last ever after. We pick ourselves up and we move on. There are so many people that come into our lives and have significance, but don’t make our whole lives. That’s Margo and Q. Margo will have taught Q so much he didn’t even realise, about himself, about her, about life, and in a way, through her, John Green teaches us that also.

I’m glad it didn’t end with happily ever after, though I still felt so uplifted at the end (kind of the same way I felt after TFIOS). Happily ever after isn’t realistic and these stories are.

The additional lines and concepts put in by the screenwriters do not detract from the story in any way, they only add to it and give definition and embellishment to an already perfect story.

So I thought the film was great, it had real depth and meaning and was a wholly enjoyable tale. It was a Margo, not a Becca (surface and pointless).  Austin Abrams as ‘Bloody Ben’ is a total scene stealer. Pokemon was necessary. And Ansel Elgort’s cameo was fab.

For eagle-eyed listeners (not viewers), you may have heard (not spotted) the man himself, Mr John Green, making a cameo that was not cut like his TFIOS one. I guess the director learnt from the previous film that John Green cannot act and should in fact stick to vlogging. But when you watch his vlogs as much as dedicated fans do, you can’t miss that distinctive yell.

Because we all have him to thank. Without John, there would be no story, no Q or Margo, no strings or vehicle. So thanks to John Green, Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, the whole cast and crew. You brought the page to life and life to the page.

I would recommend this film to anyone, for an enjoyable watch with a little bit more depth. I’m glad we’ve started putting realistic stories out there. No offence to all the comic book heroes, of course.