Monday, July 25, 2005



The last time I wrote about a novel before I finished it, I ended up changing my mind long before the characters had a chance to unspool their story in my head. After raving about 'The History of Love', I promptly and disloyally lost interest when the narrative shifted away from my favorite character. By the time he reappeared, if indeed he did, I had left the theatre.

So where is my copy of 'The History of Love' now? It sits on my night stand in the "maybe someday I'll finish it" pile. Unfortunately, the fate of the books in that pile is predictably bleak. They sit there for a few months, inciting vague feelings of guilt. Then when a respectful period of remorse has passed, they're moved to the shelf of good intentions(a bulging shelf indeed, loaded not only with books but all my other failed resolutions.)

Finally, when the shelf begins to buckle, I donate the books to the local library, a practice that somewhat ameliorates my guilt. But I wonder if the potential readers who pick up my deserted books, the characters and stories that were not loved quite enough, don't sense the taint of rejection in their unmarked, unfingered pages? Do they wear their abandonment like some of the despondent singles who shop their hope in bars until their dejection glows in the dark?

But this is a blog, dammit, not the freakin New York Times, and I'm so excited about 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' that I, well, need to talk about it. And him. And Lionel Shriver, the author who won the Orange Prize for writing it. Right now. I can't wait until I turn the final pages. Besides, there is just so much in this novel, that it could easily be the topic of several posts:

1. There is the subject of the unlikable protagonist, the selfish character with whom the reader cannot or simply does not want to identify. I don't love Eva Khatchadourian, don't find her admirable, would not want to drink coffee with her in real life. So why am I taking her into my subconscious late at night right before I go to sleep? Because she's damn interesting, in spite of her negative attributes.

2. Then there's the fascinating issue of maternal ambiguity. What happens when a mother doesn't have the requisite feelings for her pregnancy or its result? I've never read such a rich or honest examination of this question.

3. And what about the child? What about Kevin? Is there such a thing as an utterly unlovable baby? A child who is bad from birth? And if so, how does a parent deal with that, both internally and externally?

4. How much responsibility do parents bear for monstrous acts committed by their offspring? Clearly, we blame them. I remember looking at the Columbine parents and judging them. Why didn't they know? Why didn't they do something? How did they raise such children? And beneath all that, the larger, more frightening questions loom: what if it's really not their fault? Who do we blame? How do we reassure ourselves that it couldn't be us? Couldn't be our children?

5. And finally, as in all great novels, there is the simple and complex pleasure of the words, the sentences, the connected constellations of thought. Such pleasure is immense in this novel.

So yes, I'm only 109 pages in and I'm raving. And thinking. And looking forward to taking the unlikable but fascinating Eva Khatchadourian into my bed and my mind again tonight.


Sharon Hurlbut said...

Wow! I think I need to get this book now. Anything that spurs that much thought is worthwhile, in my opinion.

rdl said...

I was glad to see the monkey down off his bicycle, but it seems he's been replaced by an evil eva. I think you need to read Goodnite Moon before bed maybe. :D

gulnaz said...

sounds like a wonderful book, the kind which draws you in and keeps you there till have finished it.