Book choice for November

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver [suggested by Rachel Johnston]

front cover

Two years ago, Eva Khatchadourian's son, Kevin, murdered seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker, and a popular algebra teacher. Because he was only fifteen at the time of the killings, he received a lenient sentence and is now in a prison for young offenders in upstate New York. Telling the story of Kevin's upbringing, Eva addresses herself to her estranged husband through a series of letters. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about both motherhood in general and Kevin in particular. How much is her fault? Lionel Shriver tells a compelling, absorbing, and resonant story while framing these horrifying tableaux of teenage carnage as metaphors for the larger tragedy - the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

Lionel Shriver is a novelist and has written for The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and the Philadelphia Enquirer, among other publications. She writes a weekly column for the Guardian. Born in the US, she has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast. She is married to a jazz drummer and is based in London and New York. Her earlier novels include The Female of the Species, Ordinary Decent Criminals, A Perfectly Good Family and Game Control. We Need to Talk About Kevin is her seventh novel.


Shortlisted for this month

Discussion on a new way of selecting books was deferred until after Rachel had presented her selections, so for this month there were two other books:

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

For years, Nadezhda and Vera, two Ukrainian sisters, raised in England by their refugee parents, have had as little as possible to do with each other - and they have their reasons.  But now they find they'd better learn how to get along, because since their mother's death their aging father has been sliding into his second childhood, and an alarming new woman has just entered his life.  Valentina, a bosomy young synthetic blonde from the Ukraine, seems to think their father is much richer than he is, and she is keen that he leave this world with as little money to his name as possible.  If Nadazhda and Vera don't stop her, no one will.  But separating their addled and annoyingly lecherous dad from his new love will prove to be no easy feat - Valentina is a ruthless pro and the two sisters swiftly realize that they are mere amateurs when it comes to ruthlessness.  As Hurricane Valentina turns the family house upside down, old secrets come falling out, including the most deeply buried one of them all, from the War, the one that explains much about why Nadazhda and Vera are so different.  In the meantime, oblivious to it all, their father carries on with the great work of his dotage, a grand history of the tractor. [review from]

About the Author

Marina Lewycka is of Ukrainian origin and was born in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, during World War II.  She studied at Keele University, and has written a number of books of practical advice for carers of the elderly, published by Age Concern.  She lectures in media studies at Sheffield Hallam University.

Her first novel, The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), tells of the exploits of two feuding sisters trying to save their elderly father from a Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina.  This book won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit, the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her second novel is Two Caravans (2007).

Read more about her on Wikipedia.



Pat Barker's brilliant novel "Regeneration' tells the stories of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others who were treated for 'shell shock' during the first world war by the psychiatrist and anthropologist William Rivers at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland.  Rivers was influenced by Freud and in turn introduced Freud's work to the British medical establishment.  He disagreed with Freud's view that neuroses were caused by sexual factors, but he argued that there was "not a day of clinical experience in which Freud's theory may not be of direct practical use in diagnosis and treatment".  Freud provided a "working hypothesis", a "theory of the mechanism by which....experience not directly accessible to consciousness, produces its effect".  Freud's principle merit, he felt, lay in his belief "in a process of active suppression of unpleasant experience" (that is to say, 'repression').

About the Author

Novelist Pat Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in Yorkshire, England, on 8 May 1943.  She was educated at the London School of Economics, where she read International History, and at Durham University.  She taught History and Politics until 1982.  She began to write in her mid-twenties and was encouraged to pursue her career as a writer by the novelist Angela Carter.  Her early novels dealt with the harsh lives of working-class women living in the north of England.  Her first book, Union Street (1982) won the Fawcett Society Book Prize, while her second, Blow Your House Down (1984), was adapted for the stage by Sarah Daniels in 1994.  The Century's Daughter (re-published as Liza's England in 1996) was published in 1986, followed by The Man Who Wasn't There in 1989.

In 1983 she was named as one of the 20 'Best Young British Novelists' in a promotion run by the Book Marketing Council and Granta magazine.  Her trilogy of novels about the First World War, which began with Regeneration in 1991, was partly inspired by her grandfather's experiences fighting in the trenches in France.  Regeneration was made into a film in 1997 starring Jonathan Pryce and James Wilby.  The Eye in the Door (1993), the second novel in the trilogy, won the Guardian Fiction Prize, and The Ghost Road (1995), the final novel in the series, won the Booker Prize for Fiction.  Another World (1998), although set in contemporary Newcastle, is overshadowed by the memories of an old man who fought in the First World War. [information from Contemporary]

See also her Wikipedia entry.


Previous Months' Book Choices

October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006