We Need to Talk About Kevin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

We Need to Talk About Kevin
First edition
AuthorLionel Shriver
CountryUnited States
PublisherCounterpoint Press
Publication date
April 14, 2003
Media typePrint (Paperback and Hardback)
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3569.H742 W4 2003

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, published by Serpent's Tail, about a fictional school massacre. It is written from the first person perspective of the teenage killer's mother, Eva Khatchadourian, and documents her attempt to come to terms with her son Kevin and the murders he committed, as told in a series of letters from Eva to her husband. The novel, Shriver's 7th, won the 2005 Orange Prize, a U.K.-based prize for female authors of any country writing in English. In 2011 the novel was adapted into a film.


In the wake of a school massacre conducted by Kevin Khatchadourian, the 15-year-old son of Franklin Plaskett and Eva Khatchadourian, Eva writes letters to Franklin. In these letters, she relates the history of her relationship with her husband, and the events of Kevin's life up to the killings, and her thoughts concerning their relationship. She also reveals events that she tried to keep secret, such as when she lashed out and broke Kevin's arm in a sudden fit of rage. She is also shown visiting Kevin in prison, where they appear to have an adversarial relationship.

Kevin displays little to no affection or moral responsibility towards his family or community, seemingly regarding everyone with contempt and hatred, especially his mother, whom he antagonizes. He engages in many acts of petty sabotage from an early age, from seemingly innocent actions like spraying ink with a squirt gun on a room his mother has painstakingly wallpapered in rare maps, to possibly encouraging a girl to gouge her eczema-affected skin. The one activity he takes any pleasure in is archery, having read Robin Hood as a child.

As Kevin's behaviour worsens, Franklin defends him, convinced that his son is a healthy, normal boy and that there is a reasonable explanation for everything he does. Kevin plays the part of a loving, respectful son whenever Franklin is around, an act that Eva sees through. This creates a rift between Eva and Franklin that never heals. Shortly before the massacre, Franklin asks for a divorce.

When Kevin's sister Celia is six years old, she loses an eye when Eva uses a caustic drain cleaner to clear a blockage in a sink; either Eva left the cleaner sitting within Celia's reach, or Kevin somehow attacked Celia with it, destroying her eye and scarring her face. Eva strongly believes that Kevin, who was babysitting at the time, poured the cleaner onto his sister's face, telling her he was cleaning her eye after she got something in it. The event is also linked to an earlier incident involving the disappearance of Celia's pet rodents.

When relating the story of the massacre itself, it is finally revealed that Franklin and Celia are in fact dead. Kevin killed them both with his crossbow before traveling to his school, attacking seven classmates, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. Eva speculates that he did this because he overheard her and Franklin discussing a divorce, and that he believed Franklin would get custody of him, thus denying him final victory over his mother.

The novel ends on the second anniversary of the massacre, three days before Kevin will turn eighteen and be transferred to Sing Sing. Subdued and frightened, he makes a peace offering of sorts to Eva by giving her Celia's prosthetic eye to bury, and telling her that he's sorry. Eva asks Kevin for the first time why he committed the murders, and Kevin replies that he is no longer sure. They embrace, and Eva concludes that, despite what he did, she loves her son.


Shriver focuses on the relative importance of innate characteristics and personal experiences in determining character and behavior, and the book is particularly concerned with the possibility that Eva's ambivalence toward maternity may have influenced Kevin's development. Shriver also identifies American optimism and "high-hopes-crushed" as one of the novel's primary themes, as represented by Franklin, the narrator's husband, who serves as "the novel's self-willed optimist about the possibility of a happy family."[1]


Film adaptation[edit]

In 2005 BBC Films acquired the rights to adapt the book as a film.[2] Director Lynne Ramsay signed on to direct.[3] It was announced in March 2009 that Tilda Swinton had signed on to star in the film as Eva.[4] Filming began on location in Stamford, Connecticut on April 19, 2010.[5] We Need To Talk About Kevin was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9 and 11, 2011. John C. Reilly plays Franklin and Ezra Miller plays Kevin. The film premiered In Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival,[6] where it was met with praise from film critics.[7]

Radio adaptation[edit]

From January 7, 2008, the story was serialized on BBC Radio 4 in 10 15-minute episodes and was broadcast daily as the Woman's Hour drama. It starred Madeleine Potter as Eva Katchadourian. Ethan Brooke and Nathan Nolan played Kevin at various ages, while Richard Laing played Franklin Plaskett.[8] It is occasionally repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.[9]


  1. ^ Shute, Jenefer. "Lionel Shriver". BOMB Magazine. Fall 2005. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  2. ^ Miller, Phil (September 14, 2007). "Why does this author need to talk about filming Kevin?". The Herald.
  3. ^ Arendt, Paul (June 6, 2006). "Ramsay needs to shoot a film about Kevin". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media. p. 21 (G2 supplement).
  4. ^ "Producer Says Tilda Swinton to Star in "Kevin," Adaptation of Lionel Shriver Novel". New York Times Blogs. March 18, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
  5. ^ Dawtrey, Adam (April 22, 2010). "The welcome return of Lynne Ramsay". guardian.co.uk (Guardian News & Media). Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes – From 16 to 27 may 2012". Festival-cannes.com. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
  7. ^ "BBC News – Cannes gets talking about British Kevin drama". BBC. May 12, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
  8. ^ "Cast list and broadcast dates". Radiolistings.co.uk. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  9. ^ "BBC 7's website for the radio adaptation". BBC. Retrieved September 7, 2012.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Andrea Levy – Small Island
Orange Prize for Fiction
Succeeded by
Zadie Smith – On Beauty