Thursday, 29 May 2014

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Review by Cathy White
3 out of 5 stars

When successful businesswoman Pandora Halfdanardson picks up her brother, jazz musician Edison Appaloosa, from the airport to stay with her and her family, she doesn’t recognise him. This is because he’s put on a bit of weight since the last time she saw him. A 'bit' as in over two-hundred pounds.

On their arrival at the house, Pandora's fitness fanatic husband Fletcher is less than impressed and when it starts to look like Edison is going to outstay his welcome, he gives Pandora an ultimatum –her husband or her brother. Pandora, aware that her brother's weight could end up killing him, rents an apartment for them both while she supervises the strict diet and fitness regime she persuades him to do.

While the heft of the plot concentrates on Edison’s weight loss, this is merely the narrative that glues the novel together. The wider issues and themes woven through Big Brother are loyalty, marriage, family, relationships, jealousy, resentment, control, power struggles and whether one person can be or should be responsible for another.

None of the characters are particularly endearing. The nearest we get to someone likeable is Cody; Pandora’s step-daughter, although she can be so relentlessly nice you want her to rebel a bit like a normal teenager. Then again, her brother, Tanner, takes on the stereotypically rebellious teenager in this tale.

Shriver’s writing is flawless; each sentence is beautifully constructed and each word chosen with precision. However, the ending left me feeling so cheated I wanted to unread it to get rid of the disappointment I felt upon reaching the end.

This was a hard novel to give a star rating to – it would have been 4 or 5 out of 5, had it not been for the ending. 

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