Lionel Shriver is an extremely intelligent author who writes wonderful, thought-provoking novels. Big Brother, like all of Shriver’s novels, is intelligent, moving, clever and insightful. Since I’ve struggled with weight issues in the past myself (happily, not on anything like the same scale as Edison, no pun intended), it was a topic that I felt close to.
Pandora is shocked when she picks her brother up from the airport. In the four years since she last saw him, he has become enormously and dangerously obese. He agrees to lose the weight, with his sister’s support.
This is a novel about fat, eating and dieting — in itself an unusual topic for a novel. It’s also about family ties, and in particular to what extent adults should feel or take responsibility for their siblings. And to what extent partners need to or should support their spouse in their dealings with siblings. It had me on the phone to my own (little) brother urging him to read it (no, he’s not fat!). This novel illustrates, beautifully, the complexity of sibling love through adulthood, with its warring emotions of love, frustration, irritation, anger, amusement, contentment… and through it all that profound satisfaction of being with someone who knows you deeply, because they knew you as a child. How being with a sibling can pull you back into the past and question who you have become. How seductive that is, but also how dangerous it can be.
There is a plot twist at the end that some readers have reacted against, but I thought it was absolutely perfect. Yes, it makes you question the whole book, but it also makes you question your own responses while reading it. It sent my head into a spin. It also made me feel that the book was even more intelligent and insightful than I thought.
Find it on Amazon and at other bookstores.
See also: The Mandibles | Lionel Shriver