Review: Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

big brotherFor Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and devotes hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we’ll make to save single members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

Rating: 3/5

‘Fat’ is such a loaded word, and Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother certainly takes a look at society’s screwed up attitude to eating – over or under – and society’s screwed up reactions to the fat/thin dichotomy as a whole.

I took off a star for the ending, however, because I felt a bit cheated – you’re led to believe one thing when it’s actually another – and it turns into a ‘what-if’ scenario. (But I won’t say anything else because spoilers, obviously.)

But the book is more than just about fat – it’s about family. Exactly how far we are willing to go to save them, and when enough is enough. The tension between the family you’re born into and the family you make. What to do when a family member becomes a burden instead of a boon.

Indeed, it provides a fascinating look into the world of one particular family dealing with all these issues at once, along with stuff that comes along with the new modern family – step-children, women as the breadwinners, etc.

However, there were some points where the writing got on my nerves – so much slang and jazz talk from Edison, long rehashings of 70s television shows, and some pretensions comments every now and then. However, buried underneath these annoyances were some kernels of truth that really made me think.

Just as a P.S. – Of course, this book does present a particular view of fat – not all overweight people have health problems, some are perfectly content with the way that they are – but this particular perspective is of a man with serious health problems, and I think more importantly, mental problems in his attitude towards life as a whole.


8 thoughts on “Review: Big Brother – Lionel Shriver

  1. I don’t know that I’d choose to read this for the hell of it. I’m an escapist after all, and this sounds a bit heavy and all too real. But I certanily appreciate that it deals with the problem of self-image and the prejudices we make and face every day. The other issues you mention seem to be just as relevant. Wonderful review.


  2. Not something that I typically read, but it’s probably something that I SHOULD read. I could probably learn a thing or two about myself; or at least give me a new perspective on body image issues.


  3. Heavy topic and what it sounds like an equally heavy perspective on it. Too bad about the excessive slang and pop-culture references. So many writers mistake authenticity for this… But trends fade and the books quickly become outdated and, in the end, what’s left is a book that is not easy to read. Wonderful review.


    1. I previously read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was brilliant but disturbing, so when I saw this one in a second hand bookshop, I thought I’d give it a go. But yeah, not quite what I was hoping for.


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