Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Talking about Kevin

Firstly, just a brief not on Geisha... I really enjoyed this book (although I read it a long time ago and cannot remember the plot in much detail, hence the brevity of my comments) and I do not remember having any of the qualms that Val has about it. Although, that said, I was disappointed in the ending in that a life in the USA seemed to signify ultimate "success". However, voyeurism or not, I would still like to see the film sometime.

Anyway, to Kevin...

I was rather worried about reading this book when I saw what it was about, but once I’d established that Eva’s experience of pregnancy, birth and, at least, early parenthood was vastly different to mine, I felt able to relax and became totally gripped by it. I thought it was intelligently written with some exquisite prose. Fairly early on in the book there was a very evocative description of Eva’s thought pattern the night Franklin didn’t arrive home on time and I thought the whole process of reasoning whether or not to try for a baby was well crafted. I also loved the term “plastic dirt” to describe the plethora of toys Kevin owned.

The characters were very interesting and I highly recommend the “Listen Again” interview of March’s “Book Club” on radio 4 to hear Shriver herself describing her feelings about them. Interestingly enough, Shriver herself is not a mother and I didn’t know whether this fact lent greater or less authenticity to the book.

At first I felt annoyed with Eva as a character as I couldn’t believe that Kevin as a young baby could have such the conscious vindictiveness she was assuming (certainly if a child’s timely bowel movements are anything to go by then I’m sure every mother could claim to have spawned a monster!). However, realising it is meant to be a subjective account (hence why the letter format of the book worked for me) and only Eva’s perception of events, however twisted they may be, helped me feel more sympathy towards her. Shriver herself points out that Eva is, however honestly she is reviewing events, ultimately trying to exonerate herself from any kind of blame for Thursday.

Kevin, I thought was fascinating. He was both psychopathically repulsive and an intelligent commentary on middle class values. I thought his conversation with his mother over their dinner date was quite brilliant and she should have been proud rather than angry at his ability to spot such hypocrisy. As a secondary school teacher I would certainly agree that disaffected, intelligent teenagers are some of the hardest pupils to discipline, yet the most rewarding challenges and I was really pleased that Kevin’s English teacher was given sufficient nous to identify this. However I did think that, as young child, Kevin could have easily beaten his parents into submission with a bit of basic sleep deprivation – definitely a trick he missed!

I thought Franklin was definitely the weakest character and I found it hard to believe that family situations could enable Kevin to maintain his Jekyll and Hyde relationships to his parents. Yes, they spent a lot of time relating to Kevin separately but what about weekends, holidays and with the grandparents? Surely Franklin must have seen Kevin’s “true colours” in at least some of these situations, or at least the pointed absence of babysitters and nannies would have been enough to ask some questions of his behaviour? I therefore felt a little cheated by the ending in that I desperately wanted to see Franklin’s response to Thursday. Surely, if Kevin wanted to punish his father then seeing his beloved son interned for mass murder would have been far more satisfying? I was also unsure about Eva's final claim to "love" her son, having filled 400 pages or so of vitriol against him. I was even more unsure of the wisdom of putting a copy of Robin Hood in his awaiting room: outlaws who kill others with bows and arrows? Hmm...

Overall, I thought this a superbly written and gripping read. Definitely, for me, the best Orange Prize winner so far.