We Need To Talk About Re-Reading

Cover of "We Need to Talk About Kevin: A ...
Cover of We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel

I don’t remember the first time I read We Need To Talk about Kevin. It was either at University while I was meant to be reading something else, or it was an old book-group choice.

While I’m fuzzy about what brought me to it, I do remember being physically disgusted by it. Back then, I really did throw it against a wall, turn off the light and did not sleep. I turned the light back on to make sure it was still there on the floor. Just a book.

It gathered dust, buried within my shelves. Until I did a book-cull. I do have those, really. As a mater of fact, Kevin prompted my first one, I remember that now.

Before you get all proud of me and think the book-hoarder finally admitted she had a problem, and did something about it, think again. Because I only got rid of Kevin. So, that doesn’t even count.

I don’t remember who I threw the book at, but I’m sorry, whoever you are. I just wanted it out of my house. Not unlike the first time I watched The Exorcist, for 6 minutes, when I was ten. I stopped the tape and told my friend to ‘get this thing out of my house.’

And so, Kevin was on a very short list of things I wanted to throw around.

When I heard we’d be reading it for my current book-group, I started doing laps/generally stalking around the house repeating: NONONONONO. Neil was intrigued.

And I can tell you that my email to the book-group went like this:

Excuse me while I curl into a fetal position and lose the ability to speak.  But it’s been awhile since I read it, so I could go there again.  

And I did. I’d forgotten that I gave my original copy away, and it wasn’t at the library. So, I grudgingly bought another one. Neil needed to read it, if only to understand my initial um, reaction.

It arrived and sat there unread.

‘Who’s gonna read it first?’

‘I’ve read it. You read it.’

‘But it’s your turn to read the group book first.’

‘I don’t wanna.’

But I did. In three days. I might even up my star-rating on Goodreads. From 2 to 3. Because you know, changing the star-rating on a book is a big deal. A girl can change her mind. It might even mean I’ve dare I say it, grown as a person.

Since I read Kevin the first time, I’ve learned that you don’t have to like the story to appreciate the book. That leaving the reader with a sense of disquiet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. For book-group discussion.

This time around the book was less grueling, the writing more nuanced.   And even though I prefer short sentences, these days long ones don’t make me want to poke my own eyes out. Sorry.

I suppose it was always well-written.  But the first time I read it, I was so focused on what happens, I didn’t see how we got there.

I can’t say I love ‘that damn book’ all of a sudden, but I hate it a little less now.

Have you ever given a book a second chance?


12 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About Re-Reading

  1. I hated Kevin too, though not because it psychologically disgusted me — the storyline couldn’t have been more ‘up my dark alley’. No, I found the protagonist’s voice so phoney and unnecessarily convoluted it made reading her unbearable. So I gave up. Perhaps I shall give it another go after this 🙂

    1. I can see that. I tried another Shriver book, and I thought that all her characters might sound the same. Like you, I might try again. Again.

      Let me know what you think if you do!

  2. I found the film very difficult. It reminded me of Antichrist by Lars Von Trier, in that it had similar problems. Overall, it the film seemed to be part of the nasty for nasty’s sake genre which has become so popular. However, I did think the last 5 minutes of the film were very good and actually very spiritual. I felt it showed the absolute triumph of maternal love. It might have made a better short story. One of the problems I had with the film was how unrealistic it was plot-wise – the father’s blinkered incomprehension, the lack of support for the mother, the lack of any diagnosis for autism or psychopathy, no intervention by statutory services. Of course it could be a metaphor or allegory, which makes it a bit more confused. It’s unlikely that a (white, middle class) woman would raise a child with such a severe mental dysfunction (lack of empathy, sympathy, ultimately psychopathic behaviour) without the involvement of a wider support circle. Like Antichrist, the film seemed to crave intensity and power but was merely disturbing. And it’s actually quite easy to be disturbing (harm coming to child, etc) but very diofficult to really communicate with a viewer. But very good to read how you re-read it – well done! Oh – if you want a film that’s much better than Antichrist or Kevin, check out ‘Possession’ – a wonderfully madcap psychological expressionist vortex in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby.

    1. I haven’t even tried the film. Yet.

      And I peered at Rosemary’s Baby from behind a pillow. For real. And so, I might leave it awhile before I watch Possession.

      Thanks for such a full-of-thoughts comment.

  3. I had a very similar experience with this book. I read it for the first time when it first came out. I read the whole book, but found the experience of reading it extremely uncomfortable–emotionally, and even physically, as there were some scenes that were really hard to take.
    I decided to re-read it about a year ago–I think because of the buzz about the movie (which I decided not to see). And I’m glad that I gave it an second try. While I still don’t like many of the characters, I found that I could appreciate the actual WRITING much more this time around–I guess because I knew what was coming.
    This book definitely isn’t for everyone, but it sure is an example of some great writing if it evokes such intense emotion in the readers!

  4. Life’s too short to read books you hate. So Richard Ford told me when I went to a book signing. I had to give up on ‘Canada’ after 50 pages…

  5. At high school, Pride and Prejudice was on the list of reads. I watched the old blank and white movie instead, and still found it boring. I didn’t rediscover (actually discover) Jane Austen for another 40 years. It’s amazing how school can ruin a good education.

  6. That book made me sob like a child merely for the senseless horror of it, but I have no desire to reread it, even though books that make me cry tend to be my favourites. I do often give authors a second chance even if I don’t give books one — Dickens, for example.

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