Review: We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver

It's hard to write a review for a book that could easily support a thesis.

This novel is a rare example of both form and content being raised to the highest level, as well as a conclusion that is inevitable but shocking. It's extraordinary in its ability to trigger both revulsion and sympathy, and leave you feeling for the characters long after the pages have turned.

I gave this novel 5* on Goodreads, where you can follow my reviews or author page

Review: The Mothers, Brit Bennett

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unriped secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

Affecting novel about the choices we make in our youth that stay with us for a life time. Nadia Turner is a young woman, grieving for her mother, while growing up in a tightly-knit, conservative town dominated by a church community. Its judgmental voice is brilliantly rendered by The Mothers – a collective group of elders who cannot respect the freedom and individuality Nadia seeks and the steps she takes to achieve her goal. But this novel is never simplistic; we also witness their wisdom and the warmth that Nadia seeks within their fold. Packed with deep themes and pertinent observations, the prose offers moments of great beauty.

I am Indiana Jo – welcome to my Temple of Doom

Once upon a time, I went to Chad on a press trip. Fascinating country and quite a place of contrasts: one day I hitched a lift on the Finance Minister’s private jet; the next I had to push my own taxi to the petrol station when it broke down.

chad taxi
chad taxi

And then there’s Cameroon Airlines, who were supposed to fly me home to Douala. When it comes to Cameroon Airlines, here’s a word of advice: don’t.

My flight out of Chad was delayed for four days. On the fourth day I was out of cash and there isn’t an ATM in Chad, so I decided to go to the airport and adopt an African approach to waiting, which can be summarised as: sit, wait.

This is much more effective than the Anglo Saxon approach to waiting, which can be summarised as: sit, fidget, check watch, tut, stride about, check watch, question an official, sit, huff, check watch, try to read, get distracted, fidget, sigh, check watch, stride about, get sweaty, buy drink, spill drink on self, swear, sit, develop ulcer, die of frustration.

So I took a seat, parked my suitcase in front of me and noted, with some degree of prescience, that the windows had no glass in them. It was daytime and still light. I drank a cool coke. There were almost certainly insects, but I hadn’t noticed them yet.

A while later it was dusk. The bar was out of cold soft drinks, so I had a tepid coke.  When a bug landed on my bare arm, I shook it off.

Then it was night. The bar was out of all soft drinks, so I had a hot beer. There were so many insects, I only flicked away the ones that landed on exposed skin: the ones on my clothes could stay put.

Later, the bar was out of all drinks and it was African dark outside, but the departures lounge was lit up like a giant accessible moon, and all the insects in all the world streamed in through the open windows. N’djamena airport was like the Temple of Doom – and I was Indiana Jo.

When a door finally opened and the flight was called, I had to scrape an inch-deep layer of insects off the top of my suitcase just to get hold of the handle. Then I boarded the plane and spent the hour-long flight picking grasshoppers out of my hair.

Shame I don’t have a picture – but taking photos in African airports tends to get you arrested and, well, that’s a whole other anecdote. Once upon a time, this kind of thing happened to me - and I loved it. But now? Well... times change.

view from the backseat in a chad taxi

view from the backseat in a chad taxi

I just got back from a holiday in Corsica. Have you been? It’s lovely.

So why couldn’t I relax?

Is it because taking kids to a new place means baby-proofing all over again? The first thing I used to do on arrival in a boutique hotel was trampoline on the bed while simultaneously sniffing the free shampoo. Nowadays, I shoulder open the adjoining doors of our family suite and roll across the floor – SAS style – to recce the place for baby-traps. “OK troops! There’s unsecured stairs at 12 o’clock! Glassware, repeat, GLASSWARE at 6 o’clock! And... my god, there’s a FLOOR-LEVEL MINIBAR! Call for BACKUUUUUP!”

Or is it because I’ve changed? I’ve happily swopped a dugout canoe for a pedaloe: the Finance Minister’s jet for Easyjet: and being covered in insects for... er... not being covered in insects. All of the above are MUCH easier with kids.

I’m sure that my travel-MOJO will return in time. When my daughter has grown out of ‘exploring her boundaries’ by running away as fast as she can towards heavy traffic, and when my son has had enough of ‘investigating the texture of things’ by putting them into his orifices, then we will be adventurous again. Until then, Indiana Jo is hanging up her bullwhip... although, on second thoughts, it could come in useful next time that girl legs it...

What a knee-jerk!

Just as I finally finished reading Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, and genuinely felt I had made some headway in my battle against shouting, swearing and beating the children with a rolled-up Kindle, I read an article called

“How to Land Your Kid in Therapy”

. Lori Gottlieb, a therapist and mother, writes that trying to make your kids happy all the time only makes them, well, miserable.

Lou Brooks
Lou Brooks


... all that hard work down the drain. I even meditated (ok, only once, and then I got put off because the cooker timer started beeping halfway through and I had to decide whether ignoring it was part of the training or whether I should just get up and take the Quorn cutlet out of the oven). Turns out, contrary to my belief that occasionally losing my rag and yelling a bit would make the kids hate me, it seems that the odd moment of parental bad behaviour can help the kids grow up into independent, effective, balanced adults. In fact, being a perfect role model and doing everything for them will only breed wussy, narcissistic, reassurance-addictive freaks who can’t tell their pampered arses from their spoilt tennis elbows.

Ever prone to a knee-jerk reaction, I have drawn up a rota of bad parenting – child adversity training, if you will – to counteract the moments when I accidentally manage to be loving, attentive and supportive.

On Mondays I will remove all toys from the house. This will teach them to make their own entertainment, and also that life is cruel.

On Tuesdays I will act distant and disinterested. This will make them emotionally resilient and show them that they are, when it comes down it, alone in the world.

On Wednesdays I will not pick them up when they fall. As they lie, face down in the dirt, clutching their grazed knees, they will learn to tolerate discomfort, and also accept that sometimes Mummy can’t be bothered to bend down.

On Thursdays I will ban all forms of play and we will only carry out household tasks in a joyless manner. From this, they will learn that ‘many hands make light work’, but also that life is one long chore with no thanks at the end of the day.

On Fridays I will answer the ‘whys’ with brutal honesty. “Mummy, why does our dog walk funny?” “Because he has crippling arthritis”. “Why does he have crippen-arse-rat?” “Because his body is slowly but inexorably degenerating with every passing day: he’s very slowly dying, like all of us – even you, poppet!”

At the weekends we can relax.

Toddler conversation

Mummy?Yes, love? Can I take my sock off? OK. Mummy? Yes? Can I take my sock off? Yes, OK. Mummay? Yes. Can I take my sock off? Yes, if you want to, take your sock off. Mummaay? Yeees? Can I take my sock off? Darling! Yes! Take it off. Mummaaay? *sigh* Can I take my sock off? Yes. Mummaaay? Yes? Mummaaaay? YES? Mummaaaaay? ... Mummaaaaaay? Yes! Can I take my sock off? Look, it’s your sock, I really don’t care, take it off, leave it on, it’s your decision. Mummy? *deep breath* Yes, Darling? Can I take my sock off? Is this some form of psychological torture? Mummay? What? Can I take my sock off? Are you working for the CIA? Mummaay? With a profound sense of dread and trepidation - yes? I took my sock off. Excellent. Mummy? Yes, love? Can I take my other sock off?

Kaleidoscope Curly Girlie
Kaleidoscope Curly Girlie