We need to talk about Kevin

January 28, 2018

We need to talk about Kevin

By Robert Messenger

Lionel Shriver is a thoroughly modern journalist and writer and one with a keen eye for prophecy. She can still very much appreciate the past, however, especially with regard to many of today's authors persisting with typewriters in preference to her own choice of writing weapon, a word processor.

As a constant reminder of a past preference, Shriver has in her London home, sitting on top of a Singer sewing machine treadle table, an Imperial Model D portable typewriter, dating from the early 1920s. This machine was the last of the innovative lightweight typewriters designed by Imperial’s founder, Dalgo Moya, before his breakdown and premature death in Bournemouth in 1927, and included the detachable keyboard and upright typebasket of his earlier inventions.

Shriver has the typewriter positioned in front of a small statue of a demure naked figure, perhaps paying a kind of tribute to the reclusive man that the brilliantly talented Moya became in his later life.

In "Sticking to the typewriter", an interview Shriver gave to the BBC in December 2009, the author was asked, "Why are some novelists still insisting on using typewriters rather than computers in this digital age?" One reviewer blighly surmised that "The main reason seems to be the typewriter's staying power. In other words, it's hard to imagine typing 50 years of literature on the same MacBook." Shriver explained, "It's more reliable, it's something you can understand. I feel a little nostalgic about it."

Shrive was definitely looking forward not back when in May 2016, long before Donald Trump came to power in her native America, she published The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, her 13th novel. It's about a bleak dystopic economic future in which Mexico has built it own wall, to keep out US citizens trying to escape with their savings. It is an "acid satire" in which "everything bad that could happen ... has happened" according to the Literary Review.

Shriver, 60, is best known for her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was adapted into the 2011 film of the same name, starring Tilda Swinton. By an odd coincidence, in the Billy Murray movie Broken Flowers, Swinton plays Penny, who has a pink typewriter in her yard.