We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Maternal urges…

🤬

A psychopathic teenager walks into his school and kills seven of his fellow students. His mother responds by making it all about her. She then decides to bore her absent husband to death (assuming he isn’t already dead – I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps he’d killed himself and she was communing with his memory) by writing him endless letters, moaning on for 2000 pages (judged by feeling, rather than counting) about how she never really liked kids anyway, especially not her own. I don’t know if her husband, dead or alive, continued to read all the letters but if I’d been him I’d have moved and not left a forwarding address. Happily I had the easier option of abandoning the book at the 35% mark and deleting it in a marked manner from my Kindle.

I have no idea if one is supposed to sympathise with Eva, the mother, but I didn’t. I didn’t sympathise with Kevin either. Or with Franklin, the dad. In the nurture v nature debate, I tend to think that sometimes it’s nurture and sometimes it’s nature, and the worst cases are usually where it’s both. In the what’s gone wrong with American society that makes young men behave like Kevin debate, it seems blindingly obvious that the answer is that young men can get hold of automatic assault weapons and, therefore, that school shootings would be easily preventable by the simple measure of banning guns. (Yes, I know that for some reason Shriver made him use a bow and arrow, and I can only assume this is because she too knows the answer to the real-life problem is blindingly obvious, so wanted to try to avoid people making that point. Too bad.) In the should we/shouldn’t we have a child debate, I have no sympathy whatsoever for any adult, educated woman living in a society where contraception is readily available, who knows she doesn’t like children but decides to have one anyway. Eva is supposedly an intelligent, educated feminist living in late 20th century America – so what’s her problem? Why would she decide to have a baby when what she really wanted was frequent flyer miles? I didn’t believe in her – she failed at the first hurdle, which was to convince me of her motivation.

So, having made this stupid decision, does she decide to make the best of it? Of course not. She whines and whines in the modern, narcissistic, me-me-me way, about how awful her privileged little middle-class life (complete with nannies for the unspeakable child) is and how her son is some kind of alien parasite, feeding on her, body and soul. Pah! I wondered why, when fictional Kevin had the fictional weapon in his hand, he didn’t decide to do the world a favour and rid us of fictional Eva before she became an avid letter-writer. Had I been the author, Eva would have been the first and only victim, and I would then have had the jury acquit Kevin on the grounds of justifiable homicide. It would have been a shorter book but, I feel, a more satisfying one.

Oh, yes, before I finish, don’t let me forget to mention that it’s wildly verbose, torturously overlong and unforgivably, soul-crushingly dull.

Book 12 of 12

This was The People’s Choice for December and I truly expected to love it, so you are not in any way responsible for my allergic reaction, People! Thank you for getting this one off my TBR. 😉

Amazon UK Link

87 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

  1. *slowly deletes book* I feel like I should offer you a cookie.. or a hug. 😅
    What a fantastic review! I kind of lost it at “unforgivably, soul-crushingly dull”.. you do have a way with words. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it more but thank you for the heads up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this whilst thinking ‘I didn’t buy this book did I?’ Surely I didn’t – it’s one of those titles that immediately gets my back up. But, I had to check! Breathes a sigh of relief – no, thank goodness I didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I’m relieved for you! I guess I got carried away by all the early glowing reviews, and I think I might have liked it better back then. But somehow after the last several years of America playing out all its troubles in public, it seemed to be missing a lot of the obvious answers…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I sometimes enjoy her as a talking head and other times she gets up my nose, and it would appear that might be the same with her books – I’ve read two, loved one and hated one. And the one I loved was because it was about a grumpy old woman and I “identified”… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So I take it that you didn’t like this one? 🤔
    Maybe you should introduce a new category into your review of the year: the best of FF’s worst reviews or FF’s angriest review or some such. This has got to be the absolute best worst review ever 😄 Thank you for enabling me to stop thinking that this was one I ought to read. Have some chocolate 🍫

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I have often thought of selecting my favourite one-star reviews and making a post out of them – maybe one day! There’s something so satisfying about getting all that grumpiness out of my system – I’m sure it makes me a better person… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, thanks – glad you enjoyed it! 😀 Yes, I think it must just have hit the right moment perhaps, but sadly there have been so many of these mass shootings recently that it felt redundant, apart from all its other problems…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s true, and I suspect I’d have enjoyed it much more if I’d read it back then. Sadly there have been so many mass shootings since that, as you say, we’ve probably all thought about it quite deeply already now, so the book feels as if it adds nothing. Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, made me laugh. I haven’t read it, seen the film and yeah didn’t understand why she had children in the first place 🤷🏻‍♀️
    However went on a team building thing the day after 🤮 that involved archery… I was a bit more careful 😂😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So, tell me, FictionFan, did you enjoy the book? 😉 You do make some well-taken points about the characters; if they’re not sympathetic (or at least, interesting), it’s very hard to enjoy the book. You bring up a good question, too: why would someone who has the choices Eva does, and knows she’s not a fan of children, actually have one? This story could have gone in some interesting directions with respect to the nature/nurture debate, too, as you say. I think you make a well-taken point about that. Well, you gave it a try, at any rate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I could have lived with not liking Eva, but she bored me with her self-pitying ramblings and that made me grumpy! 😉 As someone who deliberately chose not to have children because I never felt a maternal urge, I simply didn’t believe her motivation. I could have thought of several ways to have a reluctant character have a child she didn’t want, but not to coolly think it through and make that decision. And not believing in her motivation made all the rest just seem like pure self-pitying selfishness. Gah!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I knew we were soul mates! 😂 Yes, I felt there was the kernel of a good story in there but oh, she dragged it out and gave us every single unpleasant detail. They should make teenage girls read this in school – we’d save a fortune on contraception… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I think I may have abandoned this one just before I wrote that comment! I get so fed up with these first person misery-fests – they should go out and do something useful with their lives! 😉

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  6. Though I’ve heard much about it, this book has never made my wish list for a variety of reasons. (some of which I probably should leave unvoiced) You’ve totally confirmed my decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I might have enjoyed it if I’d read it when it came out, but honestly there have been so many real-life horrors since that I found I didn’t want to hear her pretentious thoughts on the subject! Haha, I had to remove a couple of thoughts from the first draft of my review too… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t recall if I voted for this dismal thing or not (something tells me “not”), but if I did, I hereby apologize and rescind my vote. I can do that, can’t I?? This sounds perfectly dreadful on all counts, and I’m not one bit surprised you abandoned it. The only thing that surprises me is that you stuck with it as long as you did!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I can’t remember who voted for it either, so we’ll agree you didn’t! 😉 I kept reading a bit more and a bit more to see if somehow it would win me over because I’d enjoyed another book of hers so much, but I fear I just got grumpier… 😡

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I voted for it this and have been awaiting your review with interest!
    I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the book but the story certainly stayed with me. I read it soon after it was released and found the subject to be so shocking (reluctant mother, psychopath son who takes his revenge on her) but in hindsight after so many school shootings I’m not surprised you hated this book.
    I think there are loads of reluctant parents in the world who became parents for a variety of reasons (pressure from other partner, pressure from society, unexpected pregnancy) but in most cases this probably results in difficult family relationships rather than We Have to Talk About Kevin situations.
    Hope your next People’s Choice is more to your liking 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I reckon if I’d read it when it came out it would have had a similar effect on me as on you. I think the weekly horror of gun massacres in the States over the last few years has made me sick of the whole subject because I get so angry that they won’t simply do what every other country has done, and ban or strictly control guns. So I was predisposed to get grumpy at this story, if that makes sense. And I completely agree about the many reasons a reluctant woman might end up with an unwanted child, which is why her motivation annoyed me so much. I didn’t believe her reasoning and felt Shriver could simply have had her have an accidental pregnancy, or made her husband pressure her into it. Then I’d have believed in her, and even perhaps felt some sympathy for her. But to coldly decide to have a child knowing you don’t like them, and then feel sorry for yourself when you discover it’s not all talcum powder and kisses… gah!
      The next one was much better, I’m delighted to say! Finished it yesterday, 😀

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      • I couldn’t agree more with your pre-motivations not to like Kevin. If it is frustrating for the rest of the world I can only imagine how strongly the parents and communities of impacted schools feel about the issue, but they seem unable to change these laws. I don’t know much about the reasons why not but it must be to do with money passing hands somewhere.
        Glad the next book was more to your taste 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • I often wondered why home-schooling is so popular in the States and put it down to religion, but I must admit if I was a parent over there I’d be scared every single day my kids were in school. The idea that they have to be taught what to do in the case of a shooter horrifies me!

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  9. Oooh, I’ve been waiting for your thoughts on this! I was pretty sure you’d have a strong reaction but wasn’t sure which way it would go. I agree that Eva was pretty insufferable and certainly should never have had children. I think when I read it pre-kids I found the whole concept more frightening, as if it were something that could happen to me. Now I’m probably of the opinion that, as you say, situations like this require both nature and nurture and Eva is far from innocent.

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    • Ha, I didn’t know whether I’d love or hate it either, but I do now! 😉 Yes, I could have sympathised with her if she’d discovered after having Kevin that motherhood wasn’t her thing, but knowing how she felt and still deciding to have a child seemed utterly selfish. I can see how it would be scarier at a time that you were considering having kids, but in my experience parents who start by wanting their kids usually do well, though I have no doubt there are occasional kids who are “monsters” by nature. I do feel that if I had a “monstrous” kid I’d have been careful not to let him play with crossbows though… 😉

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      • Agreed. I am increasingly unsympathetic with these women in books who embark on motherhood with such attitudes. And I can see more clearly now the roles nurture does play in who kids turn out to be. There was a shooting recently in the US where the parents were actually charged with manslaughter because they hadn’t done anything to prevent their son when he showed signs of violence.

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        • Yes, it was different in pre-contraception days when many women didn’t have a choice, but I really feel that in our western societies where childbirth has become optional, kids have a basic right to be really wanted. My view is coloured by having worked with boys with problems, where so many of those problems were caused by parental neglect or abuse of some kind or another. I heard about that shooting and I sincerely hope the parents are sent to jail – maybe it’ll encourage other feckless parents to keep their stupid guns away from their children!

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          • I think when kids are not wanted and know it, it causes so much damage. I do think there is still a lot of societal pressure on couples and women especially to have children but that we are maybe moving toward being more accepting of those who choose to remain childless. (You probably have more perspective on this!) It still drives me crazy that asking people whether or not they have kids or when they will have kids is considered casual conversation.

            After a run-in with a cougar this summer, Peter and I have discussed the idea of having a fun for camping and hiking in the back country. But my number one issue is that I do not want a gun in my house and I do not want one anywhere my kids could ever access it.

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            • Ha, yes, happily I’ve finally reached an age where people no longer ask if I’m getting married soon or planning to have children! Now they just look pityingly at me as they say “Oh, couldn’t you have children, then?” Gah! So yes, the pressure definitely still exists.
              I understand why people feel a need for a rifle when they live in areas with dangerous wildlife, especially when they have kids to protect. Scotland is so tame that that’s really not an issue here, which probably makes our extremely strict laws on guns more widely acceptable. But I can’t imagine any circumstances where anyone outside an army would need an automatic or semi-automatic assault rifle, and they’re the ones that allow massacres to happen. Ordinary rifles are a bit like knives – dangerous, yes, but having to reload after every couple of shots slows things down to a level where the shooter can be stopped. I doubt if I’d ever be able to sleep soundly in a house with any kind of gun in it though, especially with children. Apart from deliberate massacres, the number of accidental child deaths by gun in the US is horrific.

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            • Thankfully Canada has stricter gun laws than the US so some of those guns that are clearly just designed to kill a lot of people are not allowed here. And we have strict rules around how guns are stored and transported. But I still don’t want it in my house, especially, as you say, because accidents happens and why even let it be a possibility? We’ll probably end up getting something like a flare gun and continue to hope to avoid cougars and bears the best we can!

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            • I’m such a wuss that even if I had a gun I don’t think I could shoot an animal, although I don’t know how I’d react if I was really in fear for my life or worse, the life of my mythical children! They keep talking about rewilding Scotland and reintroducing wolves, and in principle I’m all for it, but we’re so unused to having predator species here I’m not sure we’re psychologically prepared for it…

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            • That’s a good point. Shooting a cougar in front of my children is hardly the best case scenario! We have wolves around here but they’re rarely seen. They seem like one of the shyer big species. I know what you mean though, you really have to educate people about how to deal with these animals. We have had an influx of people moving to our area from the city and many of them need to learn basic things like storing your garbage because otherwise it attracts bears.

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            • We’ve even struggled with learning to cope with urban foxes, which have exploded in numbers since fox-hunting was banned several years ago. Like you say, people have had to learn to store garbage properly and more cat-owners (including me) keep their cats in at night now since there are stories of desperate foxes attacking pets – maybe urban myths, I’ve never been sure. So I do think we’d need to be trained what to expect with wolves and how to co-exist peacefully!

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            • Wolves are nice because they really don’t want to be near people. They don’t seem attracted by garbage the way bears or raccoons are. Around here they follow the elk and mostly stay out of the way. Vancouver has had a big issue with coyotes in the past year and here too they can be aggressive with cats and small dogs. After our local playground re-opened in 2020 we realized the local coyotes had been hanging out in the park but thankfully they moved on.

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            • It’s mainly because of the red deer population explosion that we’re looking at bringing back wolves. With no predators, red deer are incredibly destructive of the forests, so we either have to cull them or find another way to control the population. One of our crazier environmentalists would like to reintroduce lions but he accepts that maybe the people aren’t with him on that one! 😉

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  10. ha! Ok now I know I don’t need to read this one, because I was always curious about it. Too bad it was filled with so much whining. I don’t have sympathy for middle-class women in first world countries in consensual relationships either – contraception is easy to come by, we all know how it works!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Middle-class, western whining drives me mad! At no point in history have women had it as good as we have now and while there’s still plenty more we can aim for, we should at least appreciate what we’ve got! And one of the greatest gifts we’ve received is the ability to choose whether we have children or not, so children in our privileged societies have a right, I feel, to be born to parents who actually want them! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I enjoy passionate reactions, negative or positive to books, so I very much enjoyed your review! (besides, it was very funny). I actually tried to read this several years ago but just couldn’t get into it; the few pages I read struck me as way too verbose.
    I see from the comments that you’re aware of the movie. I respect your decision to stay away from it but it was really excellent, largely due to Tilda Swinton. The script, I think, solved some of the problems you noted in the book, most notably Eva’s decision to have a child. She’s not a child hater per se in the film (she actually has a second child, whom she clearly loves); rather she’s unequipped to deal with a difficult baby and a semi-forced move (by her husband) to the suburbs, which requires a sacrifice of the adventurous urban life that she loved.
    Like you, I was puzzled that monster child used a bow and arrows for the slaughter rather than a gun. It didn’t occur to me that the novelist may have been attempting to avoid the whole gun control issue.
    Which brings me to my last point (and aren’t you glad?) concerning the ready availability of fire arms in the U.S., where I’m from. As many of your commenters noted, It really IS a horrible situation and it’s quite depressing to think that nothing is being done to eliminate (or even curb) the violence. This is particularly surprising in view of the fact that there’s significant popular support for sensible gun control (somewhere between 52% to 57%, II believe, although I don’t have a cite/link). One possible explanation is the huge amount of money that gun activist groups and gun manufacturers contribute to the reelection campaigns of key members of Congress (from both parties). Additionally, jurisdictions that have enacted gun control legislation have had it struck down by the courts, which now have many very conservative judges who have interpreted the Constitution to favor gun ownership above all else. Equally unfortunate, opposition to gun control has now become a sign of tribal loyalty for many political activists on the right, putting the issue beyond any sort of rational discussion. In short, doing something about the problem “ain’t that easy.” That sounds like an excuse; think of it more as a cry of despair.
    Thanks for a great review! I may try to read Kevin again at some point, just to be sure of my initial reaction, but not anytime soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I do like to rant occasionally when a book really annoys me, as this one certainly did! 😉 It’s incredibly verbose, and quite repetitive. By going over every detail of her horror story with her child it actually lessened the effect overall – a real example of when an editor should have said “less is more”.
      That’s interetsing about the film. She’s not really a child-hater in the book either – she just doesn’t particularly enjoy children, and as a woman with no maternal urges myself I could understand that. But that made her decision to have one anyway totally unbelievable to me. I could have accepted it and even sympathised if she’d got pregnant by accident, or if her husband had pressured her into it, but it was the supposed rationality of her decision that threw me.
      I totally sympathise with the gun control issues over there, although I admit it makes me really angry every time we hear about another class of dead or traumatised children, and the weeping and wailing followed by no action. Over here we had one horrendous school shooting back in the ’90s, and within weeks, with pretty much unanimous consent of all politicians and the whole population, we restricted gun ownership to an extent where thankfully we’ve never had another, so far. It’s not impossible it’ll happen again, but it’ll be an extremely rare event if it does. As an interested onlooker to US politics (mainly because I can no longer bear to watch the UK’s own politics! 😉 ) my own feeling is that it comes down to two issues. Firstly, that the constitution is woefully unfit for modern times – over here we don’t have a written constitution, so the government of the day can make laws very quickly to deal with modern problems. And secondly, that for some reason the US seems willing to allow judges to make laws in the Supreme Court, or block laws made by politicians – again over here, there is a tiny minority that would like to see rule by judges, but the vast majority feel it should solely be up to elected representatives that we can vote in or out to make laws. I’m really not trying to suggest we’re perfect – far from it – but our system does appear to make changing the law considerably easier, especially when, as you say, the majority of the electorate want them to change.
      Haha, anyway, glad you enjoyed the review! Good luck if you decide to read it – plenty of people love it, so hopefully you will too. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      • I share your anger about pious sentiments/no action after the latest dialy gun slaughter. In fact, the “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” response has become an open joke for many. No need to apologize that the U.K. handles gun control better, as I agree with you on this point! (I was also very envious of New Zealand’s response after its mosque slaughter. Canada also seems relatively free of this kind of violence. I’m not sure of the Australian attitude on the issue).
        You raise a very interesting point regarding the judiciary & the U.S. constitution. The Supreme Court was deliberately designed to be “counter majoritarian,” i.e., to act as something on a break, or at least to be above, popular opinion (the Founders were terrified of mob rule. Most people forget that they also restricted the franchise) and the actions of the executive branch (Founders also didn’t want a dictator). Sometimes this is a good thing. For example, the Supreme Court was responsible for striking down racial segregation in the 1950s and establishing a woman’s right to control her reproduction capacity in Roe v Wade; it’s also protected the rights of persecuted religious groups and various societal outliers. I think the more fundamental problem is a political structure that gives too much power to rural, thinly populated states (California has 40 million people and 2 senators. Wyoming has 1/2 million people and two senators as well). Donald Trump, who was elected although he lost the popular vote, tipped the balance in the Supreme Court with the aid of senators representing a small minority of the U.S. population. In effect, a miniority president appointed a court reflecting the views of a minority of the population. The result is the most politicized and ideological court that the country has seen in almost a century. Even for an institution designed NOT to reflect majority opinion, I’m afraid this might be too much.
        As I type, I’m realizing you may be right — perhaps the constitution is too creaky for the present day. The system worked reasonably well when the judiciary was relatively neutral and both political parties were able to find common ground. Obviously, those days are gone. As for your comment about the U.S. population being willing to let judges make the law — well, I think for the most part much of the population is pretty oblivious to these issues and many of those paying “attention” are getting their “information” from the commentators on Fox News.
        My apologies for hi-jacking your blog, but I do find these issues interesting if scary (think January 6, 2020) As for politics in either the U.S. or the U.K. ? I’m not very knowgeable about British politics but in the U.S., well, it’s dismal. The answer? books and art!!! (particularly as I’m working on becoming part of the U.S. population opting out of politics)

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        • I think Australia is much the same as us and NZ – they had a massacre and very quickly tightened up the rules. I think we’re all slightly different in our approach though, depending on local conditions. Britain is so small and our countryside is so domesticated that no one except farmers really *needs* to have a gun. And of course our police are not routinely armed either – only when they may be facing armed criminals or terrorists – which stops the vast numbers of police shootings that seems to happen in the US. I don’t like to boast (yes, I do 😉 ) but there was only gun murder in Scotland in 2019 (population 5.4 million) and I believe that was a gang member shooting another gang member. I haven’t seen the figures for 2020 yet, but we were in lockdown for most of that!
          Interesting background on the constitution and the Supreme Court – thank you. It does sound as if the founders were a bit paranoid about who should wield power, which probably made sense at the time. I’m still dubious about some aspects of democracy – it does tend to lead quite often to populist dictators even in countries where democracy seems to be bedded in, and I’m deeply worried about what’s been happening in the US. But, as Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.”
          Our politics is pretty dismal too, what with Brexit and the push from nationalists to break up the United Kingdom, but I remind myself often that despite our problems we’re still one of the richest and most socially liberal countries in the world, and maybe one day we’ll get rid of the horrible economic inequality that still blights us!
          Don’t apologise! I’m a political nerd (as you may have noticed 😉 ) so I’m always happy to have a discussion! 😀

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  12. I had a very similar reaction to you, although I think I actually forced myself the whole way through the book (which I cannot imagine doing now). I hated it for all the same reasons, but especially that considered decision to have a child despite knowing she doesn’t like them – there’s no reason for that in this day and age! And yes, the bow and arrow thing was so strange – I hadn’t thought of it as a way to get around the gun control issue, but you’re right, that was probably it.

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    • Yes, she could have found so many better ways to make Eva’s motherhood more believable, but to try to make it seem like a rational decision just didn’t work. I don’t know if that’s why she went for a bow and arrow, but it seems to me that must have been the reason – that, and she probably didn’t want to suggest they were irresponsible enough parents to leave guns lying around. However, I felt that if I had an ‘evil’ son I probably wouldn’t have let him take up archery either! 😉

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  13. Oh my what a hilarious post! I’ve always hesitated to read this book because of its bestseller status and also its loaded topic (sorry couldn’t resist)… your post has released me of the guilt not to have read it!

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  14. As you and others have commented, the premis of this book does feel as though it has not been thought through properly. There are indeed many women who may have been forced to have children against their will, the notion of someone just deciding to have one in order to make some kind of point even though she knew she wasn’t maternaly minded appears very unlikely psychologically. Funnily enough, I had a feeling you would most likely hate this book, and don’t think I would be a great fan either, but I agree you should create a new tag in your arkives for all your one and two star reviews, as they provide great entertainment value, even if you have had to slog through some pretty awful books.

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    • Yes, I felt Shriver could easily have found a better way for Eva to have a baby – accidental pregnancy, pressure from her husband, etc., but I couldn’t accept she just made the decision knowing she didn’t like kids. Apart from anything else, it seems so selfish and unfair on the child. But even apart from all my objections, I just found the book dull – it’s so wordy and overlong with a lot of repetition. Haha, I do enjoy writing ranting reviews – it makes reading the bad books almost worthwhile! 😉

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    • I’ve only read two and I enjoyed the other one, but that was because it featured a grumpy old woman and I identified with her! 😉 Not sure if I’ll read any more, though I do have one lingering on my TBR somewhere…

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  15. If I ever had an inclination to read this book (which is very unlikely), I think I’d have to avoid it because the voice of FF would be competing with the author’s voice, and I think you’d win! A public service review, thanks 😉

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