Tag Archives: book

School killings: We Need To Talk About Kevin

We-Need-to-Talk-about-Kev-007No-one could have missed the news reports on the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire as she taught a class, with a 15-year-old pupil charged for her murder. Such a horrifying and devastating thing to have happened, but in a world that is becoming more and more violent we can hardly be surprised that this would happen eventually. Throughout my time as a student a high school, I saw a pupil lose it with a teacher and hurl a table across the room at her, I saw teachers lose it with pupils and throw things at them. When at university I even heard about stabbings and twice was unable to get on or leave my campus because police were having a stand-off. I’m sure this is no different to many other schools and universities, in fact in many places I know it is far worse. What concerns me is why so many are turning immediately to violence to deal with their frustrations.

All this press brought a book and film back into my mind, one I read a few years ago but which still haunts me now. We Need To Talk About Kevin is a chilling tale of murder and love entwined, striking at the heart of parenthood by offering up the greatest test of unconditional love. It raises questions that no parent should ever have to ask themselves – such as whether the age of a child prevents them from blame over the seriousness of their crime, and whether in fact the parents are to blame. Lionel Shriver’s prizewinning 2003 novel is written in a series of letters from Eva, to her estranged husband, Franklin, in the wake of their son, Kevin’s disgusting crime. She looks at her son and writes about his childhood and her memories of him, trying desperately to see if there were things she should have noticed. If she could have prevented his later actions.

I watched the film after reading the book, and I was so glad to have done both. The film too is brilliant, but completely different to the book. It has been completely reworked by British director Lynne Ramsey who focuses on the question of what happens if bad children are born to good parents? And does this mean that the parents themselves are inherently bad and they just fail to realise it? Ramsey too follows Kevin’s short life up to the climax, showing some scenes of a disturbing nature but actually it is the acting and portrayal of Kevin by Ezra Miller that really haunts you. Tilda Swinton does an amazing job of exploring the internal and external struggles experienced by a parent whose child has committed murder as she comes to terms with what her own life, and Kevin’s has become. You see her struggles to realise that actually the son she had unconditional love for was an extremely rose-tinted view of reality, and her shock and fear as she realises that Kevin was not injured by the shooter, that he was the shooter.

It is also interesting to see her connection throughout both the book and the film with her baby – the relationship between her and Kevin is tested and difficult throughout with the clear understanding that she does not like her baby. It suggests she was suffering from post-natal depression and makes you wonder if this, which clearly sets the tone for their life-long relationship, was in fact the effect of her treatment and resentment for her baby in the first instance. Could she have influenced his behaviour by rejecting him so early? It does make you wonder if her understanding of his goading her and playing up as a child is in fact her own depression painting the way she views it. Could it be that in fact Kevin was just an innocent baby at birth and that his mother’s hatred of him caused him to turn into a monster? If not, does that mean he was a monster from birth?


Such an interesting story because it raises all those big questions about good and evil, nature vs nurture. The questions we squirm over answering because we don’t want to believe that someone could be born evil, but at the same time, society doesn’t ever want to believe in people reaching breaking point or parents being unable to cope. Although the telling of a fictional event, some have said it was based on real events such as the Columbine High School killings which makes it ever more terrifying, to know that this has really happened, and now just a few hours from where we all live in the UK.

The vicious nature of the crime is scary enough, but actually what scares me more in the film and book is the fact that Kevin is so calculating and clever. He is not that kid that is just pushed a bit too far by the bullies or doesn’t get on with his teacher, he is a cold-blooded psycho killer who plans the whole thing. I have a slight admission that I have always found the psychology of killers absolutely fascinating and love programmes like CSI and Luthor and films like Seven that delve into the killer psyche. I’m just so curious to know how some people can be wired so differently, or whether in fact this lurks in all of us, it just takes the right circumstance and experiences to bring it out and let it loose. I would really recommend this book because it is one of the best I have read of its type and despite reading it years ago, it has stayed with me ever since. The film is also worth a watch, but after reading the book because it does change the way you view the story significantly and actually I think there are parts of the film that didn’t quite make sense without the book to explain them.

 What did you think of We Need To Talk About Kevin and have you got any others like this you could recommend? Where do you stand on the nature vs nurture debate when it comes to evil acts like this?

Book Review: The dark secrets lurking behind a tropical island paradise

Photo by Whiz-ka

Photo by Whiz-ka

I’ve been a bit boring lately so haven’t had many new reviews for you to read, so I thought I would write about some of the books I’ve been reading lately. Last year, I came across Snowing in Bali – a best-selling novel by a journalist called Kathryn Bonella. Reading on the cover that it was an “incredible inside account of Bali’s hidden drug world”, I was instantly intrigued. I’m one of these people who has no set taste in books – I can flit from a romance novel to a brutal dystopian thriller and enjoy both. I actually prefer to change the type of book I am reading each time I pick one up to keep things fresh and to try to cover a range of different topics and themes. I guess that’s the English Literature degree rubbing off on me after reading fairy tales alongside historical texts and tales of murder – you just can’t pin me down to one genre!

So when I spotted this book, I was instantly drawn to it – I loved the fact that it was written by a journalist who had spent a huge amount of time researching within the prison and speaking to the prisoners themselves. The fact that Bonella is a journalist suggested the story would be more insightful and balanced, perhaps offering a different angle. It was also something that I had never read about, so I was intrigued to read about the scale of drug trafficking and how it controls the very culture of Bali.

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I was not disappointed – the story was fascinating as Bonella looked through the eyes of various prisoners and their experiences in the drug trade – how they became involved, how they were framed, the dangers of the trade, how they became addicted to the lifestyle. The story was well written and you became involved with the characters – forgetting to judge them for their actions and instead understanding how easy it was to slip into this way of life when living within such a corrupt country. Working as a journalist myself, it was interesting to see how the author had approached the interviews and how she had constructed the text – much like a newspaper article but in far more depth. But what really kept me reading was my longing to know what would happen to the characters in the end – like I said, you could really identify with some of them – others were just hilarious.

It was a really interesting view of a world that most of us are blissfully unaware of and gave readers an insight into the realities of life in that ‘perfect’ honeymoon destination – Bali for locals at this time was a corrupt, poverty-stricken place and clearly for many, ferrying drugs was the only way to survive and make a living. It also showed the involvement of foreigners (i.e. British holidaymakers, travellers from the US and all over the world) plus the routes and relationships with other countries. A really good read – gets a bit slow in the middle but soon picks up again and worth seeing through to the end. Also really great the way she has incorporated pictures of some of those mentioned in the book – really helps bring home the fact that although this is a narrative text with names changed – it is all based on real events and what has been said by those who have experienced or seen first-hand the events.

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Once I finished Snowing in Bali, I couldn’t stop going on about it to friends and family – it was one of those books that you want to tell everyone about. It was the third book by Bonella, who had also penned a best-selling autobiography, Schapelle Corby – My Story. While writing this book, she also researched  for international best-seller, Hotel K, which was described as “the shocking inside story of Bali’s most notorious jail”. I was so pleased when my boyfriend bought a copy of Hotel K – I had been dying to read it since putting down Snowing in Bali and could barely wait for him to finish the book before starting it.

If I thought Snowing in Bali was good, Hotel K is even better! It focuses more generally on life in the prison which is simply fascinating – a completely different world full of drug traffickers, thieves, murderers and more. It shows the extent of the corruption, with money being the route to a comfortable stay in Hotel K and a chance to keep the guards sweet and on your side. Interestingly, you also get to see the effects that gangs and large-scale criminals had on the prison when they were sent down for their crimes – this includes the Bali Bombers, a Balinese King, Gordon Ramsay’s brother Ronnie and the Bali 9 among others.

It was an incredible read that challenged everything you thought you believed in as you learnt the stories behind the crimes, heard the astonishing logic and reasoning behind the crimes and saw the cruelty and hideous conditions all of the criminals were subjected to – whether murderers or petty thieves. I was gripped from start to finish and would seriously recommend this book to anyone – it was easy to read and followed some very interesting characters.

Both books were amazing reads and gave a great opportunity to understand the darker side of the Bali culture that lurks just beyond the white, sandy beaches and tropical sunshine. Both are books that change the way you think about right and wrong and the justice system.