Skip Navigation

Submitted Literature

We Need To Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver


Shriver’s phenomenal 2003 novel examines the increasingly common phenomenon of USA high school mass-killings.  Narrated through a series of poignant letters to her absent husband, the mother of Kevin details his birth and childhood in a desperate search for answers and reasons behind his killing spree.  An immensely readable fictional examination of a dangerous cultural phenomenon.

Key Themes:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Carer Issues
  • Childhood / Adolescence
  • Revealing Reads
  • Violence

Significant Quotes / Pages

133 – “This impenetrable flatness of his, combined with a reticence extending well past the point that all your manuals forecast first attempts at speech, compelled me to consult our paediatrician.  Dr Foulke was reassuring, ready with the conventional parental sop that ‘normal’ developmental behaviour embraced a range of idiosyncratic stalls and leaps, though he did subject son to a battery of simple tests.  I'd expressed concern at Kevin's unresponsiveness which due to a hearing deficit; whenever I called his name, he turned with such an in-his-own-good-time deadpan that it was impossible to tell whether he had heard me.  Yet though he was not necessarily interested in anything I said, his ears worked fine, and my theory that the volume of his infantile screaming had damaged his vocal chords was not borne out by medical science.  I even voiced a worry that Kevin's withdrawn quality might indicate early signs of autism, but apparently he did not display the telltale rocking and repetitive behaviour of such unfortunates trapped in their own world; if Kevin was trapped, it was in the same world is yours and mine.”

443 – “Yet I have reflected on the fact that for most of us, there is a hard, impassable barrier between the most imaginatively detailed depravity and it's real-life execution.  It’s the same solid steel wall that inserts itself between a knife and my wrist even when I'm at my most disconsolate. So how was Kevin able to raise that crossbow, point it at Laura's breastbone, and then really, actually, in time and space, squeeze the release?  I can only issue that he discovered what I never wish to.  That there is no barrier.”

Reference: Lionel, Shriver. 2003. We Need To Talk About Kevin. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2005


- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009