THE TABOO HATRED; It's Barely Spoken of - but There ARE Mothers Who Loathe Their Own Children. in This Haunting Piece, the Novelist Who This Week Won the Orange Fiction Prize Reveals That Hers Was One of Them .

Daily Mail (London), June 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

THE TABOO HATRED; It's Barely Spoken of - but There ARE Mothers Who Loathe Their Own Children. in This Haunting Piece, the Novelist Who This Week Won the Orange Fiction Prize Reveals That Hers Was One of Them .


Byline: LIONEL SHRIVER

ON TUESDAY night, author Lionel Shriver won the [pounds sterling]30,000 Orange prize for fiction for her seventh novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, which addresses the taboo subject of a mother who hates her own child.

Lionel, 47 - who was originally called Margaret Ann but at 15 decided to change her name because 'men had it better in the world' - is married to a jazz drummer, and now splits her time between London and New York. They have no children.

MY MOTHER has always been up-front about the fact that when she learned she was pregnant with my older brother, she flew into a rage.

She had been married to my father for only a month. After one of those rare 1950s weddings between bona fide virgins, she had barely sampled the pleasures that legitimacy afforded, and three was a crowd.

Her spitting indignation at the doctor's office became the stuff of family myth, often related with a comic, cheerful cast. Whether knowledge that his arrival was unwelcome later contributed to my older brother's . . . um. . .

difficult character I couldn't say, though it may not have helped.

Given my mother's - let's use a gentle word - ambivalence over her own first pregnancy, it is little wonder she took me aside when I was in my mid-30s and had just fallen in love. She warned me that if we decided to have a child, motherhood would 'completely transform' my relationship. Though she did not spell it out, there was no question that she meant for the worse.

I am struck by my mother's candour. Nowadays, for a mother to openly allow that her offspring was an unwanted intrusion into her marriage would probably be considered child abuse. My mother would be expected to shut up, bury her real feelings and concoct something nauseously rosy instead.

Indeed, one of the things that has put me off having children is motherhood's unwritten gag law.

While we may have taken the lid off sex, it is still out of bounds to say that you do not like your own kids, that the sacrifices they have demanded are unbearable, or that, perish the thought, you wish you had never had them.

As it happened, my mother's cautions were unnecessary. I have been ambivalent about motherhood - or, more honestly, hostile to it - from about the age of eight. I did not even engage with the issue until my early 40s, when I wrote We Need To Talk About Kevin, a novel that examines what it might be like for motherhood to go fatally, catastrophically wrong.

Much to my surprise, after six of my previous novels had sold modestly at best, Kevin has created a stir in the U.S. and was recently chosen for BBC1's book programme Page Turners.

Of course, I like to fancy that the novel is nicely written. But the reason for the unlikely popularity of this rather dark book must go deeper than that.

I think Kevin has attracted an audience because my narrator, Eva, allows herself to say all those things mothers are not supposed to say.

She experiences pregnancy as an invasion. When her new-born son is first set on her breast, she is not overwhelmed with unconditional love. To her own horror, she feels nothing. She imputes to her perpetually screaming infant a devious intention to divide and conquer her marriage.

Eva finds caring for a toddler dull, and is less than entranced by drilling the unnervingly affectless, obstreperous boy with the ABC nursery song. Worst of all, Eva detects in Kevin a malign streak that moves her to dislike him.

Her misgivings seem well founded when, at the age of 15, he murders nine people at his high school.

Whether Kevin was innately twisted or was mangled by his mother's coldness is a question with which the novel struggles, but which it ultimately fails to answer. That verdict is the reader's job.

Though some readers have been put off by my narrator's unattractive confessions, a remarkable number have expressed to me their gratitude that someone in modern literature has put motherhood's hitherto off-limits emotions into print.

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THE TABOO HATRED; It's Barely Spoken of - but There ARE Mothers Who Loathe Their Own Children. in This Haunting Piece, the Novelist Who This Week Won the Orange Fiction Prize Reveals That Hers Was One of Them .
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