Who Is Kevin, and Why Do We Need to Talk About Him? Lionel Shriver, Kevin, and the Problem of Representation

We Need to Talk About Kevin. This book's provocative title delivers what seems a direct address to the reader, presented with both urgency (we need to talk) and a personalising of the context (we need to talk). The title promises a relationship between reader and narrator. To some extent it delivers on its promise: we do find out who Kevin is and why the conversation is so urgent. But satisfaction is also withheld or forestalled: the novel in its epistolary form is directed not at readers, but at an absent character. That said, the novel has attracted an enormous amount of attention. In 2005 it won Lionel Shriver the Orange Prize for Fiction (the Booker for women, as it is sometimes termed) and considerable publicity. Shriver has been interviewed in a range of media and travelled the literary festivals circuit; the novel has been adopted by reading groups, public and private book clubs, and on university literature courses. In reviews and blurbs readers are told that it is the story of 'a mother who doesn't much like her son and a boy who grows up to stage a massacre at his school' (Owens). Commentators find it hard to break away from this line, though Andrew Lawless points out that the novel does have 'strong feminist themes running through it', mainly to do with 'the pressures ofparenthood, and society's expectations ofwomen'. It is, that is to say, a book about women's issues.

But is it a feminist novel? Certainly the feminist logic is evident in every line. Eva, the narrator and Kevin's mother, carries an inequitable share ofthe domestic and the childcare duties, despite her lack of aptitude or interest. Although she is considerably more successful in her professional life than her husband Franklin, he expects - indeed, requires - her to cut back on her work so that she can be a 'real' mother.

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Published 1 November 2009 in Manifesting Australian Literary Feminisms: Nexus and Faultlines. Subjects: Feminism.

Cite as: Webb, Jen. ‘Who Is Kevin, and Why Do We Need to Talk About Him? Lionel Shriver, Kevin, and the Problem of Representation.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 24, no. 3-4, 2009. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.a6cd328dd2.