This review has been revised. I felt it was too easy to criticise a writer on one piece of work with no ‘back-story’. I have done that and for me it didn’t get any better in fact….
Lionel Shriver – Killifi Creek
I have now re-read the original short story and I have flicked through a copy of ‘We need to talk about Kevin’. All I can say is I even uneasier and less impressed with the short story than before and the Kevin book..I read the last chapter to see what the tiresome hype on cover would reveal and…..well nothing. Sensationalist kid uses bow and arrows instead of a gun ending. Why god knows as if a kid in emotional distress would be organised and calm enough to fire a bow accurately in such a situation let alone massacre a group. The device of the kid deliberately setting a trap when the majority of these student shootings spur of the moment left me totally cold. No I will not read the book. It well written as in reporter turns writer well. We are however not talking Charles Dickens here.
Having read the few online interviews and Shriver’s ungracious arrogant acceptance speech for the Orange Prize which apparently is doing it for women everywhere by being as obnoxious as any man I can honestly say I actually dislike this writer and will not be reading her again.
The list of subjects she mentions in one gloriously ingratiating ‘interview’ with a ‘friend’ suggested that the author was retreading news stories as sensationalist fiction…Kevin was the only one that took. Take another minor news story (admitted to in interview) about a faulty bannister rail and a premeditated riffing on every wholesome middle class parents worst nightmare, the gap year fatality, and we have Killifi Creek (don’t you just love the way Kill in Killifi echoes the theme).
In purely writing terms the short story not bad I just read better and probably Shriver has written better. The cardboard cut-out Henleys don’t do it for me. They read like a typical ex-pat Yank who so British now but actually isn’t (tax reasons for spending half a year abroad?) with ‘ponytail’ man being just one of many false notes. The story is not factually accurate ..it derives ‘probably’ from a student drowning on the real Killifi BEACH..which totally sand as is ‘probably’ most of the nearby creek that nobody would swim in (let alone ‘Africans’as the story rather arrogantly and subtly racistly suggests) as the current too strong. All this I gleaned in ten minutes on the internet as did the author I am presuming. Way after the actual period she spent in Nairobi and yes I believe she may have visited the area but it doesn’t heighten the realism which Jilly Cooperish at times especially in the simpering sexuality misfires.
The panel chose a former Orange prize winner who high profile and bolshy..over the rest of a strong list thus rewarding arrogance over craft and ignoring better home-grown writers for the ‘British National’ award. Jon MacGregor didn’t make the shortlist which suggests that the judges listened to the radio abridgements rather than reading the actual story which has a marshmallow soft middle section which awful….drowning woman muses on mathematical equations yeah just like insane murderous teenagers choose Robin Hood as a role model…it just ain’t real to me. The abridgement is better which suggest the BBC back room better judges.
No matter the author well versed in publicity and PR rolls out for the BBC and all stakeholders including one presumes a heavyweight American publisher so everybody happy. It just the art of the short story that the loser…left high and dry up a creek without a paddle here unless you like your profundity ‘lite’.
For anybody seeking inspiration like Shriver’s at short notice when a competition deadline looming try looking at previous book covers by first-time novelists who you puffed in a previous Guardian book of the year special..never know it could help….better still ignore Shriver and read Pochada.