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

Book Review: The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

Some title, isn’t it? This looks and is a fun novel, about a woman who went to bed, and yes, stayed there for a year. It’s my first Sue Townsend novel, she of Adrian Mole fame. It seemed really good fun and indeed it was. A quick and entertaining read.

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year: What it is about

From the back of the book: “The day her twins leave home, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she’s wanted to yell at the world, ‘Stop! I want to get off’. Finally, this is her chance.

Her husband Brian, an astronomer having an unsatisfactory affair, is upset. Who will cook his dinner? Eva, he complains, is attention-seeking. But word of Eva’s defiance spreads.

Legions of fans, believing she is protesting, gather in the street, while her new friend Alexander, the white-van man brings tea, toast and an unexpected sympathy. And from this odd but comforting place, Eva begins to see both herself and the world very, very differently.”

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year: What I thought

Eva never enjoyed looking after her twins, and now that they’re leaving for university, she finally has the chance to do what she’s wanted to do for the last seventeen years: have a quiet time in bed. People come and help Brian with the housework and to keep Eva company. Brian discovers it’s hard work, running a household. And when he asks about Christmas preparations, he gets a long monologue (taking up several pages in the book) after which he realises how much work Eva has been carrying out without him knowing it. Eva exclaims that she’ll never do Christmas again. Many British women claim this every year, but with Eva you know she speaks the truth.

The book is very funny, has some laugh-out-loud moments. It was never over the top, except for the one occasion where Brian’s sex life is discussed during a meeting at work, in detail. This seemed very unlikely. Not that the rest of the story was all that likely, but it was within a sort of acceptable boundary of likeliness.

Eva runs into some practical problems (toilet, food). The author doesn’t shrink back in making this difficult for Eva, she’s not getting an easy time of it. And before you think this book is all fun and games: no, it’s not. But over all, it’s quirky and funny.

It’s also a fast read. It reminded me a bit of The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce), because of the group of people that start to worship Eva. The Woman Who Went to Bed… is less serious, though. I loved it!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 438

First published: 2012

I got this: borrowed from the library

Genre: contemporary fiction, humor

Book Review: Seven Up by Janet Evanovich

Seven Up by Janet EvanovichThis is book 7 in the Stephanie Plum series. I got it in a book swap and was assured it can be read on its own, without reading numbers 1-6 first.

I think that is indeed true. I didn’t feel I was missing out on information. The only thing was: I didn’t care all that much for Stephanie and maybe I would have if she and I had had a history together.

Seven Up: What it is about

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter. She works for her cousin Vinnie. He provides bail for people who need it and if they jump bail, he sends Stephanie or one of her colleagues after them to arrest them and bring them in.

Stephanie’s assignment is to find and arrest Eddie DeChooch, a man of about 70 years old with a network of criminal friends. He keep eluding her, even though his vision and hearing aren’t all that good. Also her family keep her informed of his whereabouts, because he’s an acquaintance of the family: her grandma went out with him not so long ago!

Meanwhile, Joe Morelli, her policeman boyfriend, wants to marry her and to her dismay her family start to plan a big, big wedding. Ranger, a tough colleague of hers, is willing to help her apprehend DeChooch, in exchange for certain favors, that Joe might not appreciate.

Seven Up: What I thought

This was an enjoyable read. At least, after the first 100 pages or so. The first bit of the book was very slow. DeChooch was escaping Stephanie every time she saw him and it was a little frustrating.

But when the sub-stories started to come alive, the book was much more interesting.

It was quite funny, especially grandma’s part in the book: she shocked her daughter and granddaughter with her attitude to sex and she was happily kidnapped at one point.

Less interesting was Joe Morelli, the boyfriend. He didn’t appear often enough in the book and I found him a rather cardboard character.

Also it wasn’t clear to me why Stephanie hid her gun in the cookie jar even when she had to find trigger-happy DeChooch. She was afraid of the gun, but I’d be even more afraid of someone else’s gun. I don’t know, it didn’t seem likely to me.

The book is an easy read and I think would be especially good for a holiday or on journey. For me, reading this in a random weekend, it was a bit too light for what I wanted. But in all, it was fun.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: from a book swap

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 358

First published: 2001

Genre: mystery

Meltdown by Ben Elton

Meltdown by Ben EltonBen Elton is one of my favorite writers. Meltdown (2009) is the seventh or eight book I’ve read by this author. They are always satirical and hitting the right nerve! Ouch!

Meltdown: what it’s about

We meet Jimmy Corby and his family in dire straights: Jimmy was a London city trader until recently and earned amazing amounts of money. Because of that, he has a 7-million pound house in Notting Hill (and a corresponding mortgage). Not only that, he also “owns” a street with derelict houses which he has started to refurbish (most of this belongs to the bank too, and Jimmy pays a hefty mortgage).

Now that he’s out of a job, his remaining money doesn’t go far: he cannot keep up the mortgages, the nanny has to go. Monica, his stay at home wife, never realised how much work children really are! As a result, neither gets much sleep.

Jimmy has a circle of friends that he knows from back when they were at university. Some of them are doing better than he is, and some are worse off. So, when help is offered to overcome his mortgage problems, he is grateful. But things don’t go as planned.

Meltdown: what I thought

I enjoyed this book, as I usually do with Elton’s books, but this is not his best one. It dragged a little in the middle, and I thought there were too many irrelevant political (and other) issues that I felt the author wanted to add to the story because of his own interest.

The story jumped back and forth between the good times and the current times and also flash-backed to the past, when the friends were just starting their careers. I very much enjoyed the current time, in which Jimmy and Monica cope with their lack of funds, and the comparison with their more affluent times. However, the history of the friendship didn’t interest me all that much. It was relevant to the rest of the story to some degree, maybe, but I could have done without it.

The writing style was very fluent. I liked how the author managed to find a solution to all the seemingly insurmountable problems that Jimmy was facing. When I thought Jimmy and Monica had no chance to move forward from their situation, Elton found clever solutions to handle their hardship.

Rating: 4.5/5

I got this book: I bought it from Waterstone’s (the book shop) last time I was in England

I read this in: the original language, English.

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