Anatomy of a Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Part 3)

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-movie-poster1I could tell from her collected, formal greeting, ‘Hello, Sonya Khatchadourian speaking’, that she hadn’t seen the evening news. (p.131)

Following Part 1 and Part 2 of Anatomy of a Book’s investigations the curious question of why We Need to Talk About Kevin is successful or popular remains. Here in Part 3 we identify the true mystery behind this book, and the solution is simple.

“Now, calm down Mrs. Kachourian-“ … “Khatchadourian!” I insisted. “Can you please get my name right?” … “Mrs. Khadourian then.” (p.450)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the best comedic novels released in the last ten years (Australian time).

…we’d been assured that it wouldn’t be painful, though she might experience “discomfort,” a term beloved of the medical profession that seems to be a synonym for agony that isn’t yours. (p.361)

To unveil the true comedic structure in this book we must remove the book’s factual analysis of school shootings and strip back the detail – which Woody Allen would consider to be interfering with the comedic timing, and thus we have a cleaner comedy structure.

I returned to our son’s marathon and looked down at his writhering dudgeon. (p.124)

A tragedy is about loss. And on the surface We Need to Talk About Kevin is about loss. However, the ending of the book is actually about a union. Comedies are about unions. As We Need to Talk About Kevin ends with a union it therefore makes much more sense and warrants praise when analysised as a comedy.

Changing Status:

As in a Wodehouse novel for the lovers to get together one character must change status. Only one character truly changes in the end of this book, after many misadventures, and this brings the feuding parties together.

High Stakes:

Without the final union our heroine may remain alone with only those who hate or pity her for company. The idiots surround much as in a Shakespeare comedy.

Page Turner:

Admittedly the detail does bog one down and can break the comedic beat. This does hamper the over-arching comedic narrative. Yet sometimes the humour is in the detail like a good Douglas Adams novel.

Believable Characters:

There is detail to enliven the world, but with actions lacking repercussions to the characters this is clearly a comedy. Why else would the trusting Celia always trust the evil Kevin even after he subjects her to horrendous injuries? Like with the Three Stooges constantly banging into each other, the low depth of character or learning is in keeping with absurdity such as that of a Spike Milligan story.


As in Hugh Laurie’s very funny book The Gun Seller, there is a real world message against this comedic world. That evil does exist, and that it can grow-up.


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