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Lionel Shriver talks about Kevin
How does it feel to have your widely rejected manuscript become a best-selling, prize-winning novel, then a book-club favourite and now the toast of the Cannes film festival? The author of We Need to Talk About Kevin explains

It has now entered the cultural canon that, on completion in 2001, the manuscript of Lionel Shriver's seventh novel was widely rejected by publishers and literary agents alike. In retrospect, this incidental fact being widely known is alone a little weird. After all, every day writers numbly receive curt, dismissive rejections of work they've slaved over for years. Writers should have some grasp of publishing's brutality, and this morose process of having your beloved creations stepped on and pissed over comes with the territory. Hence people in my occupation are routinely expected, as Kevin would say, to suck it up.

Sorry, did I say "Kevin"? That's what's truly weird: the large number of fiction readers who know exactly who Kevin is, and that number is set to swell once a cinema audience joins the mix. Yet "Kevin Katchadourian" is just a name I picked after combing through the phonebook on an ordinary afternoon.

The premiere of Lynne Ramsay's film of We Need To Talk About Kevin at the Cannes film festival provides an apt juncture at which to celebrate the miraculous power not of film but of fiction. Lo, I have created a monster.

Kevin is a dark book, and many of those initial rejections objected that its narrator, Eva, is "unattractive": a woman uneasy about pregnancy, who feels alarmingly blank after childbirth, and fails to form the bond with her boy that we like to imagine is as instinctive as closing the epiglottis when we swallow. The novel breaks one of the last taboos (and how amazing that at such a late date I found a taboo still standing): a mother disliking her son. Rife with difficult characters and climaxing in a high-school massacre of the sort Americans are rightly ashamed of, Kevin was a poor commercial bet from the get-go.

More, my timing was mythically crap. I submitted the final draft to my New York literary agent right after 9/11, in that hilarious little window when everyone thought Americans would never read or watch anything violent again. Waiting for her response, I recorded in my journal that my new novel "abruptly seems irrelevant and, more dangerously, dated". (Indeed, the week the twin towers fell, New York Times columnist Frank Rich listed Columbine among a catalogue of national issues from "before" that suddenly didn't matter.) Ominously, my usually responsive agent went silent for weeks. Finger-drumming, I wrote presciently to myself: "Should this day, too, pass, with no comment from NY, I have vowed to break my silence and press her for a response. But the responses you have to ask for you don't want."

For the rest of the article

The Guardian

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