Big Brother by Lionel Shriver - Book Review

Big Brother

What does your size say about you? We are taught from a young age not to judge a book by it’s cover. Yet, why is it that, in the 21st century, we continue to judge people by the way they look? From the glossies to the gossip columns, we see the gleeful passing of judgement on people’s different shapes and sizes. Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother delves into the world of obesity and takes it to another level; not only forcing us to examine the way we treat overweight people, but to understand our relationship with food and why we overeat.

“You couldn’t help but wonder what earthly good was a microprocessor, a space telescope, or a particle accelerator, when we had mislaid the most animal of masteries. Why bother to discover the Higgs boson or solve the economics of hydrogen-powered cars? We no longer knew how to eat.”

Pandora Halfdanarson never saw herself as ambitious. Yet, she finds herself the owner of a thriving novelty business, her face plastered all over New York City. Having made a life with her perfect match and her two step-children, she wants for nothing.

A stark contrast to his younger sister, forty-four year old Edison chases the limelight. Deserting his dysfunctional parents and doting sister for the Big Apple at the tender age of seventeen, his sole aspiration in life is to be a jazz pianist rivalling the success of the legendary Miles Davis.

Different as Pandora and Edison may be, they are family. So when Pandora’s big brother comes to “visit” for a couple of months, her sense of familial responsibility kicks in…in spite of her husband’s reservations.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

“Edison was my family, the sole blood relative whom I clearly and cleanly loved. This one attachment distilled all the loyalty that most people dilute across a larger clan into a devotion with the intensity of tamarind.”

When Pandora heads to the airport to collect her big brother, she is met by a group of passengers cruelly disparaging an overweight passenger on their flight. As the man is wheeled out in an extra-wide wheelchair, Pandora is struck with a searing sense of sympathy for the stranger. However, he is no stranger…

“Looking at that man was like falling into a hole, and I had to look away because it was rude to stare, and even ruder to cry.”

To me, the thought of not recognising my sister is unfathomable. After all, she’s the one I’ve looked up to, turned to in times of difficulty and with whom I’ve been through it all. Understandably then, when Pandora Halfdanarson realises her once fit, healthy and exuberant big brother is the near-four-hundred-pound man in front of her, she feels as though she’s walked straight into a plate glass door.

Drawing on Lionel Shriver’s own personal experiences, what follows is an eye-opening exploration of fragile family dynamics, replete with the author’s trademark wit and ferocious energy. Suspenseful from the get go and with a literary twist to leave you reeling, Big Brother begs the question: is it ever really possible to save our loved ones from themselves?


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Book review - Big Brother by Lionel Shriver