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Big Brother By Lionel Shriver


So why did i read this? The biggest determinant to it was that I had seen the excellent film version of another of Ms Shriver's novels we need to talk about kevin


In this, Pandora Halfdanarson is a successful entrepreneur with her Baby Monotonous company (expensive personalised dolls with 10-20 catchphrases of a person loaded into it). She is married to a Seed salesman come Carpenter, Fletcher and Flethcher have two kids from his first married, Tanner , 17 going on 18 and Cody, in her early teens. Pandora also has a brother in New York and a sister in California, Edison and Solstice and her father was an actor and had a long running sitcom during their youth, Joint Custody and know seems bitter towards everything and being ignored. Edison is a jazz musician in New York while Fletcher is a health junkie.


After a friend of Edison's rings her for help, Pandora arranges for Edison to visit the family for two months and she is shocked at how big her big brother had got since the last time she saw him. He is morbidly obese and she doesn't even recognise him in the airport. Soon with the health junkie, Edison is driving the family crazy with his cooking and leeching off his siter and he breaks one of the chairs that Fletcher has made.


Her home life seems to be parrallelled by the characters of joint custody, and Pandora's fictional self was the unremarkable middle daughter of the family with the prodigious jazz paino brother. Part of her escape to Iowa, is to get away from this.


Shriver's narrative style is very absorbing and I found this to be wonderfully written and a very enjoyable read. While dealing with the real issue, she does a great job at making it humorous at the same time which is great. A very enjoyable captivating read.



From reviews of we need to talk about kevin, i remember reviewers warning about trusting tilda swinton's narrative as not being wholly accurate. I bared this in mind while reading it so the ending was not as surprising as it might have been. I had been thinking "is this accurate, is this trustworthy throughout the second part of the novel". I was right though this doesn't take away from the novel at all


Edited by iff

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I loved this. Really complex, really engaging.



And structurally very similar to Atonement - with a straight first section, a shift to a new situation for the middle section, and then a short final section casting the middle section in a new light



Here's my Amazon review:


Lionel Shriver is a modern day Dickens. She writes stories about supposedly everyday life featuring cartoon characters with outlandish names, doing quite extraordinary things in stories that stretch credibility to breaking point.


So when we have a story featuring successful entrepreneur Pandora Halfdanarson, her custom furniture making husband Fletcher Feuerbach, and her jazz musician brother Edison Apploosa, it feels like another Dickensian romp. Add to that the basic premise that Pandora and Fletcher are fitness/nutrition freaks, whilst Edison is a 27 stone slob – that Edison comes to stay with Pandora for an extended visit, and that they both live in the shadow of their father Travis, an erstwhile sit-com star – and you feel like you are in a story so unlikely it might make even Dickens blush.


Yet, Big Brother is apparently a closely autobiographical work. Lionel Shriver’s own brother, Greg, had been a looker in younger age but battled morbid obesity and, it is implied, sibling envy. Lionel herself was just as much of a fitness freak as Pandora and Fletcher in this novel.


How you view the novel is likely to depend on whether or not you know the truth behind the fiction. Yes, there is sibling rivalry. Yes, there are clashing lifestyles. Yes, there is a wrench between the married family and the blood family. As these themes play out, they build steadily in intensity, fuelled by characters taking provocative positions and generally behaving badly. As in Shriver’s past works, few come out with any real credit, although Pandora’s daughter Cody proves to be a bit of an angel.


Shriver is a fabulous storyteller, interjecting a clear authorial commentary on modern society despite ostensibly narrating through the first person voice of Pandora. Sometimes there is a bit of a game going on: how far is an observation supposed to belong to Shriver and how much is it simply a good representation of an unsympathetic character? If the former, then the reader is presumably supposed to nod and accept the sage wisdom; if the latte then the reader is supposed to be repulsed. But the not knowing is exquisite. These digressions and observations – again reminiscent of Dickens – are what really make the novel meaningful, memorable. The down-side to this is that Big Brother, like other Shriver novels, is slow to start and far from gripping for the first quarter to half of the book. But the novel is a slow burner and by the end, it is morbidly, grotesquely compelling.


The ending will divide readers. For my money, it was intelligent, thought provoking and extremely unsettling. To say more would give it away. But other readers will find it unsatisfactory and frustrating. I would just observe that if you don’t like being taken out of your comfort zone, Lionel Shriver may not be your ideal writer.


Big Brother felt good at the time, and a couple of days later it is growing on me more and more. That’s the sign of a pretty special book.



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