Tag Archives: literature

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?

Gogglebox, government surveillance and 1984


I can’t believe it, but a year on and I’m still just as hooked on Channel 4’s Gogglebox as ever. Who would have thought that watching people watching TV could actually turn out to be more entertaining than all of your other reality TV shows, drama, talent shows and all the rest combined? Not me, that’s for sure. When it first aired, I was pretty sceptical and thought, like many others, that this must be the most desperate attempt to pull in audiences yet. I refused to watch it, thinking it would be a huge waste of my time, but when I caught an episode by accident, I couldn’t help but get addicted.

It’s hilarious. Why? Because it is so simple and it shows real people from all branches of society – the type of people we see walking down our streets and the ones we work with. They are people we come into contact with and this brush with reality is refreshing after seeing how programmes like Geordie Shore and Big Brother turned to extremes to shock their audiences. Now these programmes are just tasteless and painful to watch. I’ll admit I am a Made In Chelsea fan, but this too is a bit of escapism because their lives are just ridiculous. Their endless supply of money means their problems really are #firstworldproblems and I find it astonishing that I can even find this entertaining. I guess it is entertainment at seeing what frivolous lives they lead and how insignificant their problems are as opposed to those living outside this little bubble – the ones who are struggling to make ends meet.

bbe04077-c253-4929-beb0-ea2402db7715_625x352But going back to Gogglebox, I just love the fact that it uses such a variety of characters and their reactions to the different programmes. The pairs pictured, and the old couple, are my favourites – they are just hilarious! It is so much more interesting than Big Brother or any of those programmes ever was because it uses the guy off the street, not these ridiculous characters to make things more dramatic. I don’t care if some newspapers have reported that some of those involved have TV experience or that some say it is fixed, it probably is to an extent because all of them must know they are being filmed. But the fact remains, they do a great job of reacting as real people do, which keeps it interesting and current.

It does make me wonder what is next for reality TV though. We’ve gone from forcing conflicting characters to live in extremely close quarters while completing humiliating tasks live on TV, to making ‘celebrities’ take on challenges with snakes and bugs in the Australian jungle and we’ve even started filming the posho’s in their daily lives as they bitch and fight over insignificant things. Now we are literally watching people watching television. I just don’t have the imagination to see where this could go next, but I hope it doesn’t get any more graphic, if Geordie Shore is anything to go by.

Made-in-Chelsea-castThe former Literature student in me can’t help but wonder if George Orwell’s 1984 was even more relevant and incredible accurate than we ever could have imagined at the time. Such a fascinating book, and one of my favourites, I can’t help but think back to his references to ‘Big Brother is watching you’ and the technology that he imagines – the types of things we use now with webcams and voice recognition technology. When you start thinking about how our television interests have changed in the last 20 years I have been on this Earth, you can’t help but see a dramatic shift towards the idea of looking in on ourselves. We seem to be moving more and more towards the idea of looking down a microscope at society and picking on various parts. It is fascinating and I’m sure there is so much more psychology and sociology that could help explain it far better than I ever could.

This was more a thought process that started with how much I love Gogglebox and is ending with my curiosity with the way the world is changing around us and how we are constantly pumping out information about ourselves but wishing to remain anonymous. We all want our views to be heard, but we don’t always want to put a face to them, so I think the people on Gogglebox are very brave for going on the show. Someone who is never afraid to talk about his views, and whose ideas might be interesting to you, is Edward Snowden. I’m not sure how I really feel about his ideas, but I remember watching this Alternative Christmas Message a few months ago and feeling a slight chill even then. If you have read 1984, you will find it particularly haunting, if you haven’t – I strongly recommend you do!

Do you love reality TV? Which programmes and why? And what do you think of 1984 compared to today’s society?

World Book Day: Why do I love reading?

photo_1A post by Life of a Thinker posed the question – “Why do you read?” and it really got me thinking about my motivation for reading. What is it that I love so much about books and literature – to the point I chose to study for English Literature and Language A-levels before continuing to a degree? Liam’s post featured a quote by George Martin which explained it far better than I will be able to:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I couldn’t help but try to express my love of words through a quick comment on the post which was my feeble attempt at explaining why I love reading, and particularly fictional tales.

I think I might be addicted to reading – I can’t be happy unless I have one or more books on the go. I adore the escapism of it all, the crazy characters and feeling like I am learning and developing my own character through the experiences of those in the narrative. Reading is something I have loved all my life so it has become a way of life for me rather than just a hobby.

Today, I looked out of my window and over at the school field opposite where hundreds of children were running around like crazy while dressed up as their favourite fictional characters for World Book Day. I think it is great that the children have a special day for celebrating their favourite stories and exploring their love of reading – but it makes me a little sad that there has to be a specific day for this. Growing up, every day was World Book Day for me. I would spend hours reading stories by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, fairytales and basically anything I could get my hands on. I would save my pocket money and insist my parents took me to the market where I would stock up on new books by my favourite authors at the second-hand book stall, only to have finished reading them by the following day.


I continued to love reading throughout school and would always have read extra books on top of the recommended reading or set books for class – I know, what a geek. Later, I would get told off for not reading my textbooks because I was too busy reading my novels. When choosing my A-levels, it was a clear cut decision that two of them would be English Literature and English Language, and choosing to study both at university in a combined course was again, the easiest decision of my life.

photo_4I chose to study at the University of Hertfordshire because despite it asking for the lowest number of UCAS points, it actually offered the greatest range in reading topics and genres of fiction. I had the opportunity to study modules in fairy tales and dystopian fiction under great professors who were extremely respected in their field. My favourite English Literature module had to be dystopian literature because it finally gave me a wider understanding of why I enjoyed those end of the world books and films so much.

I loved the way that the authors had really let their imaginations run wild to create these unique and destructive worlds, many of them incredible far-seeing for their time and making specific comments on the current socio-political situations in the country of the authors, or across the world, at the time of writing. It was fascinating to read conflicting ideas across different texts – the most memorable of these being the chaos and violence of A Clockwork Orange compared with the control of 1984. Both fantastic novels and with George Orwell’s offering it was also interesting to study the language he creates alongside my language studies.

I loved the way that these stories always seemed to centre around a journey of some kind, usually that of the unhappy individual who is seeking freedom from the system around him. Searching for an escape – well can’t we all identify with this? The characters, despite those that on the surface appear unusual, all boil down to those basic representations of different sectors of society that are instantly recognisable and translate to our own culture. This makes the stories seem so relevant even now, despite some being published decades ago. I think that is something that makes these novels so important, that although fictional, they were written to make a specific point and comment on fears for future societies. It is interesting to read some of them years after initial publication and to see how accurate the author’s predictions were – take the reproductive technology, psychological manipulation and use of sleep learning in Brave New World.

photo_2I’ve loved reading these novels and having the opportunity to study them and the background, motivations and social commentary behind the story – it really helped me gain a deeper insight into both them and the lives of the authors. It also fuelled a fascination with this genre of fiction and led to me continuing to read sequels such as Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and various other novels such as The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I also found it very interesting when reading The Hunger Games series to look at it in the same way as the novels on the course – far more interesting to look at social and political motivations than at the love triangle between the main characters!

If you love reading and are looking for a new genre to try out, or you fancy trying out some different dystopian novels, I would seriously recommend the following books. They really changed the way I look at the world, and to me, that is the most important thing about reading.

  • A Clockwork Orange and 1984 are amazing read straight after each other – such contrasts between the different worlds.
  • Fahrenheit 451 is about a world where books are outlawed and must be burnt – a world any keen reader would be terrified of.
  • Anything by Margaret Atwood always has me hooked – The Handmaid’s Tale was the first I read, but Oryx and Crake, followed by Year of the Flood, really questioned my view of the world.
  • The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin were very long reads but worth sticking with and finishing – two of my favourite books and total escapism.

Have you got any dystopian recommendations to share? Leave me a comment and tell me about your favourite reads.