Who’s afraid of feminists raising sons?

I’m a huge Lionel Shriver fan – difficult, divisive, dark and absolutely enthralling.

My sister and her friend and I trade Shriver novels and can talk about them endlessly. I have often thought that I’d like to belong not to a book club but to a Lionel Shriver book club. Although not my favourite of Shriver’s books, the film adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring Tilda Swinton sounds very promising indeed. This is the book Shriver wrote when she explored for herself whether she ever wanted to be a mother. She decided not.

I think Kevin has attracted an audience because my narrator, Eva, allows herself to say all those things that mothers are not supposed to say. She experiences pregnancy as an invasion. When her newborn son is first set on her breast, she is not overwhelmed with unconditional love; to her own horror, she feels nothing. She imputes to her perpetually screaming infant a devious intention to divide and conquer her marriage. Eva finds caring for a toddler dull, and is less than entranced by drilling the unnervingly affectless, obstreperous boy with the ABC song. Worst of all, Eva detects in Kevin a malign streak that moves her to dislike him.

Here’s a link to The Guardian’s review for the film:

It is a movie which is a skin-peelingly intimate character study and a brilliantly nihilist, feminist parable: what happens when smart progressive career women give birth to boys: the smirking, back-talking, weapon-loving competitive little beasts that they have feared and despised since their own schooldays?

I want to see this film!

(Cross-posted at blue milk).

Categories: arts & entertainment, Culture, gender & feminism, parenting, Sociology

6 replies

  1. Sounds absolutely fascinating, and I heart Tilda Swinton immensely, so I’m definitely up for seeing it.

  2. I read We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this year and enjoyed it, so now I’m curious when you say you love her other books. Any in particular you’d recommend?

  3. Cara – Kevin is her breakthrough novel and very highly thought of, but it wasn’t my personal favourite .. not sure if many other readers share my opinion. I really enjoyed Game Control and The Post-Birthday World. The first of which is extremely challenging (eg. racism) but a brilliant use of economics in a novel and the second of which is a ‘sliding doors’ kind of story about choosing between the different selves one is with different lovers.
    [duplicated comment deleted ~ M]

  4. I wonder if the movie will manage to convey the ambiguity of the novel? The story is told from Eva’s point of view and she’s an example of the unreliable narrator.
    In one interview, Shriver says this: “As for Eva’s unreliability: she is not deliberately dissembling. She is telling the truth as she understands it. But she is, as are we all, compulsively self-justifying. It suits her purposes for Kevin to seem out of kilter from birth. Her story is rigged.”
    In another interview Shriver says, “Look, Kevin may have been a difficult child, but she didn’t improve matters. I don’t mean to let her off the hook. She did help to make him. This isn’t meant to be a cut-and-dried nature/nurture debate, because I don’t believe there’s an easy answer to that. But, yes, Eva is partly at fault. And she’s supposed to recognize that.”
    This more nuanced view seemed pretty obvious to me but in several online discussions about the book I ran into lots of folks who interpreted the book as simply “Kevin=evil from birth” and “Eva=perfect mother.” My fear is that a movie will more likely feed into this view because the movie will probably eliminate Eva’s narration.

  5. That Guardian comment? What a f**king nasty, disingenuous little turd-dropping of a paragraph. Antifeminism really is the going thing now, isn’t it?
    The book may have been inspired by one of Doris Lessing’s – The Fifth Child. And DL is a raging antifeminist. So how does that fit into your neat little theory, Peter Douchey Bradshaw?
    Evidently my week-long holiday from the internet hasn’t improved my temper or seen some unexpected spike in the quality of “broadsheet” cultural comment.

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