Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

big brother

Rating: 5 / 5

Pandora, to the surprise of many, herself included, has a pretty successful career.  She successfully ran a catering business, Breadbasket, and is now on her second entrepreneurial stint with Baby Monotonous, which sells high-end customizable dolls.  Never one to be in the limelight, she has left that to her older brother, Edison, who left home at 17 to make his mark as a jazz pianist.  Edison has fallen on hard times, so to help him out, Pandora invites him to live with her for two months.  She knows it will put a strain on her marriage to Fletcher, but Edison is her blood relative, and she is the only one willing to help him.  However, when she picks him up at the airport, she realizes that she doesn’t recognize Edison at all; instead of the fit, handsome, blonde boy she grew up with, Edison is now obese, nearly tipping the scale at 400 pounds. Pandora is torn between trying to help Edison and trying to keep her marriage intact.

I absolutely loved Big Brother, and a huge part of it is the way it made me feel.  Quite honestly, I found that Big Brother made me uncomfortable, at times cringing and appalled. Shriver deftly tackles real issues in today’s society with this book.  At the forefront is obesity.  Shriver dives into how someone can become obese, the downward spiral, the constant struggle to lose weight, and also the challenges with keeping excessive weight off.  Obesity is not merely a physical problem, but also an emotional, psychological, and physiological one too. Shriver also touches on the problems with helping someone who is obese.  How much of Edison’s obesity should be her burden?  How can she effectively help Edison lose weight? And how much effort should she put into the endeavor in relation to Edison’s seemingly indifferent attitude towards weight loss?

Big Brother also explores relationships between siblings and spouses.  Throughout the book, Pandora struggled between wanting to help her only brother with the fact that to really help him, she would have to put her marriage on hold for a whole year.  While I thought Pandora’s husband, Fletcher, could have been more supportive, I understand where he is coming from.  By fully investing herself in Edison’s weight loss, she had effectively prioritized her brother above her husband.

Just when you think everything is chugging along nicely and Big Brother will end in a comfortable and satisfying way, Shriver throws in a stunning surprise.  While the surprise is shocking, I think what made it so great is that all along, I had these notions and beliefs about the characters and the subject matter, and then everything got turned upside down and inside out. And I loved it.  Big Brother is provocative, emotionally charged, and relevant, and I cannot recommend it enough.  Lionel Shriver has written many novels, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

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