Review: Big Brother

Ah, Lionel Shriver.  A Reader's Respite just loves Lionel Shriver.  Few authors can consistently put forth such book club-worthy novels addressing a myriad of social ills while forcing readers to examine their own roles within their families, their communities and the world at large. Shriver makes us think.  Makes us uncomfortable.  Makes us question.  Seriously, we still haven't entirely recovered from the emotional trauma we suffered at this woman's hands after We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Her latest effort, Big Brother, might well be one of her finest efforts to date.  When Pandora, married and settling comfortably into middle age, learns that her erstwhile, jazz pianist older brother is flying into town for a long-overdue visit, she is thrilled.  Four years, after all, is a long time between visits.  But when she arrives at the Cedar Rapids airport to pick up Edison, she is shocked.  Her suave, handsome, urbane brother has gained hundreds of pounds.

Grappling with the shock of seeing her brother in such a condition, Pandora is further astounded to find that Edison is not merely paying a visit.  Homeless, jobless, and without a penny to his name, Edison has come to stay.

Shriver delivers two distinct themes in this novel.  First and foremost is the question of our obligations towards family.  What are the limitations of that obligation?  How much is one required to sacrifice for our siblings, parents, children?  Secondly, Shriver explores the social issue of obesity, including the inevitable and lamentable prejudices that accompany a person's physical appearance.  If you think you hold no preconceived notions on body-type, Shriver will prove you absolutely wrong in Big Brother.

The story is told with biting insight and sharp wit and despite her propensity to use a $10 word when a $1 word would suffice just as well, the plot moves at a pretty good clip (we devoured the entire novel in two days).  And the BIG TWIST at the end?  Well played, Ms. Shriver, well played.

Book clubs?  Enjoy.  You'll be talking about this one all summer.

Big Brother

Title:  Big Brother
Author:  Lionel Shriver
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages:  384
Source:  Advanced Copy courtesy of Harper Collins

Rating:  As close to 5 stars as one can get.  Oh hells, let's call it 5 stars.  We luv'd it.


  1. I think that The Post Birthday World is in my top 10 books ever. Not all agree, but I think that is only because it does force one to look at one's life with a microscope. And Kevin? I haven't recovered either, but I probably never will. I really must read this one for my annual dose of humility and awe.

  2. I have this one but of course, it sits patiently on my shelf, waiting for me to pick it up. I have so many ARCs this year. I am just drowing in them.

  3. I have never read a Lionel Shriver novel, but this one sounds fascinating!

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  6. bermudaonion(Kathy)June 4, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    I can't wait to read this book! Shriver really does make you think!

  7. Oh look, more books for me to keep an eye out for! Though, sometimes it winds up being good when one like this slips under my radar because I have a good suggestion for my IRL book club.

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  9. tanya boughtflowerJune 5, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    For some reason I just couldn't get into We Need to Talk about Kevin. I put it down and never picked it up again. I may give it another try or move onto Big Brother.

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  24. I would give Shriver one more try. There was a previous novel of hers that I tried and it didn't work for me, but I gave her another try with Kevin and was hooked after that. I tend to give an author 2 tries and then bam, I'm done.

  25. I see this as a big book club much to talk about and so many different possible views on it all!

  26. Doesn't she, though? I still think about KEVIN and all the possible implications brought up by that book, even after all these years. Sign of a good author I think.

  27. I think it's a good one to start with. She really is a good writer in that she has the pulse of American consciousness and can really hit us below the belt - honesty can hurt. I love that, though.

  28. LOL, when you come up for air, you'll enjoy this one I think. :)

  29. Okay, The Post Birthday World is the only one of her books I've missed. Can you believe that nonsense? I must track down a copy and read it. I love her so much.

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  31. I thought this book was excellent - it was my first Shriver read but I will definitely be going back for more!

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