Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big Brother: What it is about

The publishers say: “For 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 spends 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.

Big Brother: What I thought

A book about family ties (loyalty of sister/brother), about food and hunger, about regret. Pandora feels loyal to her oversized brother but her husband Fletcher finds him a fat layabout who is abusing his sister’s generosity.

It took me a while to get into Shriver’s writing style, as there is a lot of looking back in the beginning of the book, which interrupted the main story a little too often. But once the story was well under way, it was a well thought-out and fluid rendition of Pandora’s attempts to help her brother with his weight (and other) issues.

There is quite a lot of reflection by Pandora on food and dieting, and at one point it seemed I was reading an essay rather than a novel.

The story zooms in on particular moments, then pans over several weeks (or more). I liked the way this was done. It didn’t become too tedious to read but still the reader could pick up how tedious some of Pandora’s experiences.

The ending was… odd, but Pandora explains in (too much?) detail why she did what she did. It took me by surprise but I did eventually see how it made sense.

An unusual novel that I enjoyed very much.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 384

First published: 2013

I got this: from Harper for review (advance copy)

Genre: contemporary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

23 Responses to Book Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

  1. mpartyka says:

    I’m not reading your review but I’m thrilled to see 4.5 stars! I’m planning to travel with this one. Once I read it, I will be back to read your review. 🙂

  2. JoV says:

    I’m a big fan of Lionel Shriver but hasn’t got the time or too distracted to read her other books. This one looks great!

  3. Andi Miller says:

    I’ve never read Shriver, and since the release of this book, I feel the need to remedy that!

  4. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader says:

    I think I’m going to have to read this one. I’ve only read one other Shriver and I wasn’t a fan. But I’m willing to give her another shot and this one sounds good 🙂

  5. Marie says:

    Very nice review! I love Shriver’s work, but it always takes me awhile to get into her stories. It’s so worth it, though. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

  6. roxploration says:

    Great review thank you. I haven’t read this one yet but have enjoyed quite a few of Shriver’s others. She never likes to make things too comfortable for her readers either in terms of writing style or subject matter but I usually find her works extremely compelling.

    • Leeswammes says:

      It wasn’t comfortable, roxploration. I guess if you liked her other books, this one will be for you, too. Unless she’s suddenly changed her style. Sounds like she hasn’t.

  7. heavenali says:

    I have a review copy of this and am looking forward to it.

  8. Marie says:

    Great review – I haven’t heard anyone else comment on the ending of this book before. I definitely want to read this, it sounds so interesting – not just the diet and obesity issue but the whole brother/sister relationship. I know I’m really close to my younger brother and I can’t imagine being in Pandora’s situation and having to choose between a sibling and your husband. I’ve loved Lionel Shriver’s writing before so can’t wait to snap this up.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marie, the choosing between brother and husband was a very important part of the book. I would be on the husband’s side, but I don’t have a close relationship with my brother.

  9. I also really liked this book. It made me think, and kept me thinking long after I closed the book. Today I went to the bookstore and bought another book by Shriver….this is a writer I will continue to follow. I found the ending really interesting, but difficult to talk about in a review.

  10. I was hoping to start this a week or so ago and never did:( thanks for sharing for thoughts.

  11. Laurie C says:

    I just read your review fully, too, after writing mine. I’ve read most of Lionel Shriver’s books since We Need to Talk About Kevin and that one was the only one I didn’t really like. I may go back and try it again one of these days. Am linking to your Big Brother review today!

  12. I’ve seen some mixed reviews on this. I don’t know if it’s for me, though … I have this thing about not being drawn into other people’s self-destructive behavior 🙂

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