We need to talk about Alex

More books.

9780316029957we need to talk about kevin2

Totally different, they just happen to be the last two books I have read. Bit Of A Blur has been hard to avoid, with Alex James doing all the press that I didn’t get for my book. (I blame him, naturally.) It’s as you’d expect: the louche, fag-perched Blur bassist’s own take on the Blur Years, with the added hook of a guided tour through Soho’s bars and clubs, and of course, the decisive move to a very big house in the country, seemingly to give Alex something to write a column about in pretty much every newspaper in the land. I spent a lot of time with Blur in the 90s, and found Alex easy company, if a little distant at times. (Graham was always more volatile but, I found, warmer.) This book is not the biography of Blur – Stuart Maconie’s already written that: 3862 Days – and it’s in Alex’s gift to leave out bags of detail, and surnames, and dates, to make room for his own personal reminiscences, which are, on the whole, insightful, candid and beautifully written. He is a very fine writer, spare, fluid and unshowy. Also, funny. He offers a very instructive view inside the recording and touring processes, enough to actually put you off wanting to be in a famous band, were it not for the sheer magic of playing with Damon, Graham and Dave, which cures all hangovers and puts all differences on hold. You can’t, it seems, legislate for that. Alex makes no effort to big himself up. When he’s the world’s most unfaithful man, he admits it. At his nadir, he describes himself as a fat, drunken slag. You may, like me, be bored of the incessant learning-to-fly bits, but there’s much to compensate. I’ve read negative reviews on Amazon that seem to want a different book. You can’t legislate for those either.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is outside of my reading comfort zone. I’m not much for novels, or haven’t been since I was in my twenties, as I’ve established elsewhere, but my desire to write one has reawakened my interest in how it’s done. In the case of this book, it’s done magnificently. So good, in fact, it makes me think I could never do it. But as a reader, I’m not complaining. I didn’t know much about Shriver beyond her moany American-in-London Guardian columns, but it turns out she was a failed novelist for years, and it was this book that turned it around for her. You can’t even get her first four novels in the shops, or so it seems. It won the Orange Prize and the next thing you know, she’s famous. Quite, quite justified. If you don’t know already – and this is not a spoiler, it’s written on the jacket – Kevin is a 15-year-old kid in upstate New York who kills nine people at his school. The book takes the form of letters written by his mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, Kevin’s dad, Franklin, through which the years leading up to Thursday (as it’s meaningfully italicised) unfold: the couple’s reasons for having a child in the first place, Eva’s immediate regrets on falling pregnant, Kevin’s difficult upbringing, and so on. You know the ending, which is what makes the writing so powerful. It’s not about what, it’s about why. At the end of the day, Kevin is not about school shootings, it’s about a marriage, and about what having kids does to a marriage, especially when the parents are in their late-30s/early 40s. I must admit I was put off at the beginning by the too-good prose – Shriver writes eloquently and insightfully throughout, nailing those difficult emotions beautifully with metaphor and simile – but as soon as it becomes apparent that Eva is a writer, my doubts were dispelled. Fair enough. I couldn’t stop reading it once I’d started. I raced to the end at the weekend, and the end, even though you think you know it, does not disappoint. One for parents, or prospective parents, or non-parents of the same age as Eva and Franklin. It could put you off having kids for life, though. (Shriver is in a relationship, and has been married, but has no kids, and is about to turn 50. I wonder if this explains why she might write a scary book like this. I must read up on her a bit. She certainly once wrote a column telling all women to have kids, fearing that she would be seen as “the anti-Mom” after this book.)

I’m having a go at Shriver’s new novel, but the reviews on Amazon, again, seem wracked with disappointment after Kevin. We’ll see. Others must have read this. What do you think?

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26 thoughts on “We need to talk about Alex

  1. I loved Kevin. It seems to polarise people though. Initially I found the mother character selfish and hateful, but as the book unfolded and her circumstances became clear, I learned to love her. It proves that you don’t always necessarily like your children, no matter how hard you try, something some yummy mummies of my acquaintance found outrageous. With some of the brats they’re rearing they may yet eat their words.

  2. I loved Kevin. It seems to polarise people though. Initially I found the mother character selfish and hateful, but as the book unfolded and her circumstances became clear, I learned to love her. It proves that you don’t always necessarily like your children, no matter how hard you try, something some yummy mummies of my acquaintance found outrageous. With some of the brats they’re rearing they may yet eat their words.

  3. I found Shriver’s book painful to read and utterly bleak, to the point where I read two thirds of it and then had to put it down for a couple of weeks before going back to it. For all that, it is an incredible piece of work and I wish I had the guts and the talent to write something so incendiary . Her premise that some infants are almost intrinsically unlovable is dynamite. You can imagine the fun that the world of Psychology has had with this book…Somehow I’ve been less attracted by her new one, which seems to feature snooker.

  4. I found Shriver’s book painful to read and utterly bleak, to the point where I read two thirds of it and then had to put it down for a couple of weeks before going back to it. For all that, it is an incredible piece of work and I wish I had the guts and the talent to write something so incendiary . Her premise that some infants are almost intrinsically unlovable is dynamite. You can imagine the fun that the world of Psychology has had with this book…Somehow I’ve been less attracted by her new one, which seems to feature snooker.

  5. Pearl Powder (aka Mrs Danny Supergrass) has a book out too – a rather darker one than Alex’s. Articles in the Times today and Grauniad yesterday.Personally I avoid them as I find they inevitably skew my appreciation of the music – you can’t legislate for that either.

  6. Pearl Powder (aka Mrs Danny Supergrass) has a book out too – a rather darker one than Alex’s. Articles in the Times today and Grauniad yesterday.Personally I avoid them as I find they inevitably skew my appreciation of the music – you can’t legislate for that either.

  7. Coincidence Corner: If it’s any comfort to you and your sales figures Andrew, the last two books I’ve read were yours and We Need To Talk About Kevin. And yours was much, much funnier.Seriously though, Shriver’s book pulled me in all sorts of directions. Compellingly written and – spoiler alert – enough of a twist even if you read the jacket blurb.And of course I thought your book was equally great in its own way. Laugh-out-loud evocative of a bygone dirty-print age and piercingly good on the fragile, fickle nature of celebrity. And it must be the first book I’ve ever read where I feature in an unnamed cameo. When you left Vox I landed the comedy gig there – it was only on reading your book more than a decade later that I discovered the full story. Alistair Campbell has nothing on the machinations of some IPC employees.

  8. Coincidence Corner: If it’s any comfort to you and your sales figures Andrew, the last two books I’ve read were yours and We Need To Talk About Kevin. And yours was much, much funnier.Seriously though, Shriver’s book pulled me in all sorts of directions. Compellingly written and – spoiler alert – enough of a twist even if you read the jacket blurb.And of course I thought your book was equally great in its own way. Laugh-out-loud evocative of a bygone dirty-print age and piercingly good on the fragile, fickle nature of celebrity. And it must be the first book I’ve ever read where I feature in an unnamed cameo. When you left Vox I landed the comedy gig there – it was only on reading your book more than a decade later that I discovered the full story. Alistair Campbell has nothing on the machinations of some IPC employees.

  9. i am halfway through “Kevin” and its the first novel that has gripped me in a long while.The writing is eloquent and deftly manages to avoid cliche traps which must be all over the plave ith this subject matter.Great book so far

  10. i am halfway through “Kevin” and its the first novel that has gripped me in a long while.The writing is eloquent and deftly manages to avoid cliche traps which must be all over the plave ith this subject matter.Great book so far

  11. Sorry to lower the intellectual tone but… Andrew, with your already packed schedule, how DO you manage to get through so many books? In the past couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed yours (of course) and skimmed the covers of ‘The God Delusion’, which took you (apparently) about 10 minutes to read and expertly discuss the other day. I’m struggling to finish ‘Tescopoly’, and the bedside table is groaning under the weight of half-read books and magazines like Granta, Mojo, The Word and British Wildlife. Like the ironing backlog, I just can’t seem to reduce the book jam because new ones materialise almost every week. And now you’ve whetted my appetite with yet another two! If I can kick the magazine habit, and manage finally to finish a book, I will post a review…but don’t hold your breath!

  12. Sorry to lower the intellectual tone but… Andrew, with your already packed schedule, how DO you manage to get through so many books? In the past couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed yours (of course) and skimmed the covers of ‘The God Delusion’, which took you (apparently) about 10 minutes to read and expertly discuss the other day. I’m struggling to finish ‘Tescopoly’, and the bedside table is groaning under the weight of half-read books and magazines like Granta, Mojo, The Word and British Wildlife. Like the ironing backlog, I just can’t seem to reduce the book jam because new ones materialise almost every week. And now you’ve whetted my appetite with yet another two! If I can kick the magazine habit, and manage finally to finish a book, I will post a review…but don’t hold your breath!

  13. Kitchen Cynic – that Pearl Powder interview. It made me pretty nauseous. Hadley Freeman (usually a great journo) should be ashamed. Attempting to correlate Pearl Lowe’s horrific drug problem with the fact she lives on acres of land with a loving family makes heroin and coke whilst hanging out with Frost, Law and the Gallaghers seem quite attractive to impressionable indie minds, I’d imagine…

  14. Kitchen Cynic – that Pearl Powder interview. It made me pretty nauseous. Hadley Freeman (usually a great journo) should be ashamed. Attempting to correlate Pearl Lowe’s horrific drug problem with the fact she lives on acres of land with a loving family makes heroin and coke whilst hanging out with Frost, Law and the Gallaghers seem quite attractive to impressionable indie minds, I’d imagine…

  15. It was a bit heavy on the lifestyle and oh is it true you swapped wives with Jude and Sadie, and a bit light on the vomit and cold sweats, wasn’t it? Though it hints that the book itself is not.The majority of impressionable indie minds seem content to perpetuate Doherty’s Emporer’s parade though, so I think we may be wasting our concern on them.

  16. It was a bit heavy on the lifestyle and oh is it true you swapped wives with Jude and Sadie, and a bit light on the vomit and cold sweats, wasn’t it? Though it hints that the book itself is not.The majority of impressionable indie minds seem content to perpetuate Doherty’s Emporer’s parade though, so I think we may be wasting our concern on them.

  17. Vox had its moments. Of course, I should make it clear that I never had a hand in interviewing Bernard Manning in his underpants.Incidentally, I can’t help thinking there is an eerie link between your latest book and Shriver’s best novel. Yours actually gets its title from an REM lyric, hers merely sounds like it does, coming across as the mutant offspring of “Should we talk about the weather?” from Pop Song 89 and What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

  18. Vox had its moments. Of course, I should make it clear that I never had a hand in interviewing Bernard Manning in his underpants.Incidentally, I can’t help thinking there is an eerie link between your latest book and Shriver’s best novel. Yours actually gets its title from an REM lyric, hers merely sounds like it does, coming across as the mutant offspring of “Should we talk about the weather?” from Pop Song 89 and What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

  19. ‘Kevin’ is excellent, the new one isn’t – I know, I had to review it.The most interesting thing about Shriver is that she changed her forename at 15 because she thought men had it easier.Fair enough, but Lionel? What names did she reject for that?

  20. ‘Kevin’ is excellent, the new one isn’t – I know, I had to review it.The most interesting thing about Shriver is that she changed her forename at 15 because she thought men had it easier.Fair enough, but Lionel? What names did she reject for that?

  21. Hmmmmm. I’ve tried both her new one, The Post-Birthday World, and her previous, Double Fault, and I’m gripped by neither. Perhaps Kevin was a one-off. If so, Shriver should be delighted to have written such a great book. Most writers don’t even have one half-decent book in them.

  22. Hmmmmm. I’ve tried both her new one, The Post-Birthday World, and her previous, Double Fault, and I’m gripped by neither. Perhaps Kevin was a one-off. If so, Shriver should be delighted to have written such a great book. Most writers don’t even have one half-decent book in them.

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