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Three days before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Katchadourian goes into his high school, where he shoots and murders seven fellow pupils, a teacher and a cafeteria worker. In a series of letters to her former husband, Kevin’s mother Eva recalls his upbringing and their lives together.

I’ll be honest – for the first 100 pages of this book (my edition was exactly 400 pages) I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. That said, it’s not necessarily a book that you can enjoy as such, given that it is about a school shooter. It is set in 2000, two years after the horrific incident, and while Kevin and his specific crime is fictional, it references several real life school shooters. It is a sobering subject, but despite this I have become absorbed in other books on the same subject (for example, the brilliant Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult).

Eva is frankly, not an easily likeable person – although I sense that she was written that way deliberately. Her ambivalence towards her son since before he was even born, was apparent, and she wrote about him as if he was evil from the moment he arrived in the world. The question at the heart of the book is whether someone can be born evil or if – in this case – Kevin turned out the way he did as a result of his mother’s attitude towards him.

From about 100 pages in however, the book captured and held my attention. I still did not really warm to Eva, although I did feel so desperately sorry for her. I wondered if she was a reliable narrator, and if all the horrible things that Kevin did prior to the school shooting were actually as she described them, but of course events bore out the fact that he was a cruel and reckless young man.

Eva is very verbose and rarely uses one word if she can manage to use twenty. She is also clearly very intellectual and has a superiority complex to others. But she is not without compassion, even if she is very selfish. I did not like her husband Franklin either, although admittedly we only ever get to know him through Eva’s own filter. But his blind defence of his son made me want to shake him for his naivety. (Again though, I wonder how the same events would have played out written from Franklin’s point of view.)

Anyway – it’s relentlessly bleak, but you kind of have to expect that going in. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a number of years, and I’m glad I finally did. On the whole, I would recommend it although I don’t think I would rush to read any more books by this author.

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This film is apparently based on the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (which sadly has not been an isolated incident, with other similar shootings also having taken place).

The film is very unsentimental, and does not invite the viewer to engage with  any of the characters.  It simply shows a number of students going about their normal everyday routines…except of course, that this day is not going to be like any other day. While many scenes are shot in real time, they also ‘loop back’ on each other, so that we see one situation from several points of view.

The first hour of this movie is tense, as you know that at some point, this terrible massacre is going to start.  And therein lies one of the problems with this movie for me – it felt almost voyeuristic, watching these people go about their normal lives, having normal conversations, totally oblivious to the fact that their lives are about to be changed forever.

I do feel that the fact that all of the actors were unknown added to the tension, and made the characters seem more real – which served to remind me that (although technically the film is a work of fiction), the events upon which the movie is based are all too real.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Main cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George

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