Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver


Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published in America by Harper in April 2013.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn’t recognize him. The once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened?

Soon Edison’s slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues are driving Pandora and her fitness-freak husband Fletcher insane. After the brother-in-law 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: why we overeat and whether extreme diets ever really work. 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.


This review was first blogged at Stephanie Jane in October 2014.

I didn't read anything about Big Brother before I starting on the book itself so was initially intrigued by the premise of Pandora's dilemma at having to accommodate her morbidly obese brother within her family's home for an extended visit. I was drawn into the relationships despite said brother, Edison, being overly irritating and Pandora's husband, Fletcher, feeling somewhat two-dimensional and cartoonish. Something else I noticed early on was that all Shriver's characters have odd first names! After a while I began to wonder where the storyline was as I had read around a quarter of the way through the book and it still felt like scene-setting.

I found it hard to buy into Pandora's decision to dump her husband and his kids in favour of her brother. We are continually told that they are very close siblings and it's impossible to refuse a 'family thing' but this didn't ring true from the way the pair actually behaved at this point. It was like Shriver was contradicting her writing and I wasn't convinced. The diet the pair follow, Edison apparently for a whole year, is dangerous to undertake cold and with just a single doctor's visit and I didn't like that such a drastic measure is being publicised in a best-selling novel. It may work in fiction, but could increase health issues in real life, not solve them.

Finally, after much repetition and the odd inclusion of an Iowan flood, we get to the final climax and its aftermath. Obviously, I'm not going to state what happens as not everyone who reads this will already have read Big Brother, but REALLY?! That's the best you could come up with? It's a disappointing ending!


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12 comments:

  1. It always makes me a bit irritated when I don't get a good ending to the book I'm reading.

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    1. Same here, and I was already exasperated enough with Big Brother!

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  2. The ending can really make or break a book. I've read books that was going to be five star and then the end and it can drop to a two star real fast!

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    1. Yes, sometimes I can feel the author running out of writing steam and ideas!

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  3. I can see how the relationships could be interesting, but I usually don't like meandering plots when I can't figure out where the story really is. And the diet thing sounds problematic :-/ Sorry this wasn't such a good one for you!

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    1. I'd loved We Need To Talk About Kevin so had high hopes for Big Brother, especially as Shiver had first-hand experience of the issues she writes about. This book just didn't work for me at all though.

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  4. Oh dear, it sounds like one I am going to have to skip. I don't think I'd like any of the characters and while I can suspend my disbelief it just sounds like the character motivations are not convincing enough for me :( What a disappointment...

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    1. I still struggle to believe that this was by the same author as We Need To Talk About Kevin

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