Lionel Shriver, best known to us as the author of the critically acclaimed novel, We Need to Talk about Kevin, engaged in an invigorating discussion with Dr Kazi Anis Ahmed, novelist and one of the directors of Dhaka Lit Fest, titled “We need to talk about Lionel Shriver” on Day 1 of the DLF.
Shriver is a well-respected journalist, and has authored 12 novels, many of which have made various best-selling lists and garnered literary prizes, but it was We Need to Talk about Kevin, the story of a young mass murderer, as seen from the perspective of his mother, which was adapted into a film by the same name, starring Tilda Swinton, which catapulted Shriver into literary superstardom.
“People ask me what happened with your seventh novel, why did it click? I say the other six books are pretty good too,” Shriver quipped.
Dr Anis quizzed the author about her earlier books, including The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047, a dystopian fiction set in a future following a great financial collapse. “I’m not just out to edify you about economics, the nature of evil, or whatever I’m writing about. I want you to have a good time.” She talked about how the story arose from a thought experiment about a financial disaster and the emotional weight the events would have.
In response to a question about the very dark themes that Shriver tends to gravitate towards, she said “I am alone in my study and I need to keep myself entertained.” She went on to elaborate by talking about the therapeutic aspect of reading and writing about themes that appeal to some of the fears that the author, or even the readers may grapple with. “I think there’s an element of aversion therapy going on, because when you expose yourself to your fears in the ultimate safe space of the written page, it’s a way of exploring your fears without anything happening to you.” She mentioned a book prior to We need to talk about Kevin, called So much for that, which dealt with the healthcare system, and it was really a way for her to cope with the sudden demise of a dear friend.
As Shriver is a well-published journalist, it wasn’t long before the conversation turned political and the question of the ascension of Donald J Trump (and she objected to the use of the word ascension in relation to Trump). “Donald Trump is beyond fiction” she exclaimed. “On paper, he isn’t credible. No one would believe someone like that would ever become president.”