Q and A with author Lionel Shriver(42 Posts)
We're delighted that author Lionel Shriver will be joining us on Mumsnet to answer your questions. Lionel's controversial book about motherhood, We Need to Talk About Kevin was an Orange Prize winner in 2005 and has sold over a million copies. Filming has just started on a movie version starring Tilda Swinton. Send your questions to this thread. Last day for sending questions is Wednesday 5th May and we'll publish Lionel's answers the following week.
Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian short story writer)
Petina Gappah (sp?) winner of the guardian first book award
OMG, I missed Lionel Shriver...
<hangs head in hands>
oooh, big thank you ! have had a skim read, will read properly later.
Thank you for arranging that. I feel a bit chastened, as she clearly didn't like my question about ramsy's speech, but I appreciate her full reply nonetheless. I realised after i'd sent it that 'proper' newspaper reviews had raised the same issue so maybe it's a sore point.
''Female fiction writers are often cast as people who can only tell their own stories and only write from personal experience, whereas male fiction writers are often cast as mysterious shamans who can conjure great art from thin air.''
yy, very true!
Lionel, thank you for this Q&A; I have warmed to you more having read this....(That is to say, I like your books, but having read some articles I had perceived you as rather chilly and perhaps a little judgey of mothers and women who were perhaps Not Like You.)
And I also appreciate your quiet pleasure at being the only Lionel Shriver on Google!
Thank you, that's great!
I'm a bit gutted I didn't write to Lionel as I planned when I'd just finished Post-Birthday World, because it was hard to remember my questions clearly.
I've just finished So Much For That, I was totally gripped all the way through and imagined all sorts of different outcomes before I reached the end. I don't want to spoil it for anyone but I'm glad Lionel Shriver isn't afraid to tackle these difficult situations. I'm glad it turned out the way it did! I wish Shep had had more of a chance to get into discussion with Gabe about the meaning of life and death though.
I just wondered if the book was written with Obama's health care reforms in mind, and whether Lionel Shriver thinks the outcomes for the main characters would have been any different if the healthcare system in the US was more similar to the UK? Obviously it would have made things easier for Shep moneywise. But if life was easier for him, would he have had his dream of the Afterlife in the first place?
The story really struck a chord with me, since my mother developed early-onset dementia which cost both my parents a huge amount in terms of money and plans for their own Afterlife.
I am a great admirer of your work; it fearlessly tackles big issues but at the same time single sentences or phrases can grab me and have me turning them over for days. I have masses of questions but will try to keep it to three. Okay, four.
Following on from mrsbean's question-- I am really intrigued to read Kevin again as I too read it before I had children and was very much on Eva's side-- towards the end, chinks appear in Kevin's facade: he admits he admired Eva's travel books and shows anxiety at the prospect of moving to a tougher prison. When I read the book I thought this was supposed to show that there was still some hope that Eva and Kevin might build a relationship but was it just supposed to undermine Eva's version of events up until then?
This is another possible spoiler question about Double Fault, which everyone should read as it is very incisive about competitiveness in relationships. (I love the line about how when men win they gloat and when women win they apologise.) I read in an interview that you said that Willy's action at the end of the book is a "gesture of seriousness about her career", but given the state of her career at that point isn't it more a deliberate stab at Eric?
In Post-Birthday World, in the Ramsey narrative, Irina is painfully honest with Ramsey; I wondered why you had her take this route with him, to the point that it causes problems in their relationship, such as when she tries to explain why she is sneaking back to her old flat, when she is so self-effacing with Lawrence, who perhaps might have been better-equipped to handle the truth, or Irina's explanations of it.
Finally, what is your reaction to everyone's interest in the fact that you don't have children? You seem to be quite happy to discuss it in interviews, and I don't suppose you'd come onto a parenting forum with the hope that it wouldn't crop up. I wondered if you had any thoughts on why this topic comes up again and again.
I am huge fan of your work, especially Kevin and The Post Birthday World. I have always wondered what your friends and family made of Kevin? Was there a division in reactions between your friends who'd had babies and those who hadn't? Did anyone get really cross?
I read the Post-Birthday World a while ago and was blown away by it, possibly because it was a dilemma I was going through myself in my mind.
I was tempted to write to you at the time but never got round to it.
I LOVED seeing two parallel universes and thought it was very cleverly done and I was totally immersed in it when I read it.
I think my question was do you really think that everyone is capable of that kind of passion (have you experienced it yourself)?
I suppose I tend to think that people who lead a fairly safe and routine life like the main protagonist (with whom I identified strongly), would never really feel that way.
And is a life wasted if you never feel that passion? (I came away from the book feeling that)
I was another reader blown away (in a good way) by "Kevin". I finished it some four or five years ago I remember with a urgent need to share it/discuss it with someone. I was in my late 40s, childless and assuming I would remain so. The book gave voice to my own longstanding ambivalence about motherhood and the suspicion that I was probably "too selfish" to make a good parent.
But (unlike Eva) I couldn't - and can't - lay claim to any kind of successful career, and nor was/am I a "masses of friends" sort of person. I was unmarried, and a part of me regretted my childlessness, feared isolation and lovelessness. But as a feminist I also felt loyal to and bound to defend my right to merry spinsterhood!
Then out of blue - almost - I gave birth to a son; an unplanned but otherwise normal birth and pregnancy except for the fact of my age - 48 (and no, I am not The Guardian's Luisa Dillner!) I was stunned, panicked and thrilled, more or less in that order. Now I gaze at the miracle that is my child and wonder what kind of life I could possibly have imagined I might have had without him.
Except that in my soberer moments, I know. I would have packed any regrets away and carried on having an interesting, if not professionally successful, time; possibly much more interesting, to many, than the child-centred life I lead now.
In case you haven't guessed it, Lionel, I am a writer too, though with nothing like your track record. What do you think about motherhood and fiction writing, or childlessness? Do you see your childlessness as a function of your career as a writer?
And not just because of its financial insecurity, which would also, maybe especially, affect young male writers. Is there something about motherhood which mitigates against the broadly objective vision and prolonged self-absorption (if that isn't a contradiction - help!) that writing fiction demands? Mothers (with exception of Eva!) are the ultimate relativists; committed to seeing only one person's interests, one side of any story; that of our child's. Would welcome your thoughts.
Another 'Double Fault' question (spoiler alert)
- did you know from the start that Willa wasn't going to be able to stay with Eric or did that become clear as your writing progressed?
'We need to talk about Kevin' - do you know, in your own mind, what it was that Kevin said to the girl with eczema? I'm not asking you to reveal all, but I would love to know if you yourself are sure what he said...
Hi Lionel, thank you for Kevin... chilling and unforgettable.
One of the first books to put motherhood under the microscope and to state honestly that motherhood isn't always a walk in the park and involves lots of sacrifices.
Did you write Kevin from a feminist perspective, ie with a conscious political message about motherhood or was it more personal ?
Also wondering - with the election coming up, how do you think women should vote and why?
Have just finished reading this - couldn't put it down....any suggestions on what to read next?
Mrs Bean, you have rephrased my question far more eloquently! Serves me right for bashing it out in between phone calls.
Re: newpup's question above, I think I'd read elsewhere that this was one of the reasons that you wrote Kevin. I read Kevin before I got pregnant and used to talk a lot about it with another friend who was making the decision to have kids/not have kids.. it highlighted a lot of our concerns about procreating given that we both had worked with students who had emotional and behavioural issues. It fascinated and repulsed me at the same time.
However, when I came back to 'Kevin' having had my son, I found it had changed the experience for me. I could suddenly only understand Eva's reaction to Kevin if I saw it as disordered on her part. I had much more empathy for Kevin than previously. He was no longer the 'bogeyman' to me. I saw his behaviour as a reflection of Eva's failure to attach and bond with Kevin vs an attachment issue mediated by personality traits intrinsic to him.
How much of what you wrote was informed by theories of attachment issues/disorders? Do you ever wonder if you would write Kevin differently if you had children of your own?
This is a bit personal really but after reading Kevin I discovered that you do not have children. How much of Eva and Kevin's relationship is a part of your own fears or ideas about having children?
Kevin was one of the best books I have ever read (and I am a very critical reader). I'm just interested to hear the author's genuine voice as the voice in the books was very compelling & real.
I've recently read The Post Birthday World. Generally it was really enjoyable and well written, i loved the fact that each character had good and less good traits, and no situation was either ideal or dreadful. However. I'd like to know why on earth no one nudged you about Ramsey's accent! Very odd, impossible to read as a South East accent, possibly a hint of Yorkshire or maybe Leeds there? Either way, it was a real fly in the ointment for me.
Just finished 'So much for that' and loved it. 'The Post Birthday World' is my favourite - so clever and well written. Also thoroughly enjoyed 'Double Fault'. My question on 'We need to talk...' is, did you plan to make it as funny as it is? While chilling, shocking, and horrifying, it is also very, very funny, not least through Eva's super-dry sense of humour. The fellow-students are so very annoying, and the attitudes of the school management are so ludicrous. Do you think the humour adds to or undercuts the bleakness?
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