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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Brother
Pandora Halfdanarson lives with her husband, 'food fascist' Fletcher, and her two teenage stepchildren in Iowa. She runs a successful business with her fantastic Baby Monotonous Dolls ( I hope the author has patented the idea,they would be sure to be a real life success) and is in something of a rut when we meet her. Pandora's childhood was somewhat unusual - her father...
Published 14 months ago by S Riaz

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So near but so far from being a great read
Lionel Shriver has written a gripping story that interweaves the modern difficulty with food and the complexities of family relationships. It is beautifully written as one would expect from such an accomplished author who succeeds in creating a wonderfully compelling atmosphere for the reader, every character jumps off the page and the reflections on American culture are...
Published 9 months ago by Mike in Sussex


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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Brother, 12 May 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Big Brother (Kindle Edition)
Pandora Halfdanarson lives with her husband, 'food fascist' Fletcher, and her two teenage stepchildren in Iowa. She runs a successful business with her fantastic Baby Monotonous Dolls ( I hope the author has patented the idea,they would be sure to be a real life success) and is in something of a rut when we meet her. Pandora's childhood was somewhat unusual - her father was in a successful television show and all the members of her family are either distant or no longer alive, apart from her adored elder brother, Edison.

At the beginning of this novel we learn that Edison is coming for his first visit in four years. Pandora is expecting Edison to drive Fletcher mad. She is anticipating his never ending stories about life as a jazz pianist - name dropping and exaggerating. What she is not expecting is the fact that somehow, between visits, he has become obese...

This book is about many things. It is about how we view and relate to food, our obsession with weight, addictive behaviours, responsibility, marriage and family. As a story I could not put it down and that is the main thing - this is just a fantastic read. Pandora is just a wonderful character, so torn between her family and her ties to her brother and the history they share. It would be brilliant for book groups with so much to discuss and an ending you will think about for a long time. This is a real roller coaster of a book; about how society judges us, how we judge ourself and the difficult relationship so many people have with food. A truly great novel which I recommend highly.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 14 May 2013
By 
Ms. Lynn Cotton "Lynn" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Big Brother (Hardcover)
I pre-ordered this book as I love Shriver's stange novels - no matter what they are about, they are always riveting. When it arrived I read it in one go - cover to cover. I don't really have time to be doing that normally, but the book is compelling, beautifully written and I just had to find out what happened. I won't give the plot away, or the ending. The characters in this boook are more likeable than most in Shriver's other novels. I loved the brother. I felt for Pandora as she is torn between trying to help her brother, and loyalty to her husband and family.

The book is about families, weakness and strength, food, love, truth, control and lack of it, loyalty, and people who give to others and people who take from others. Don't be put off about the food bit - it's interesting. For me, the central theme of this book is the love between a brother and sister, the responsibilty she feels for him right into middle age. I have never seen this so beautifully done. There is a lot of humour in this novel (of the black kind).

There is a twist at the end (2 actually). I did not like either of them and would have prefered the last chapter not to have been there, but of-course, there is a purpose to all of it. The book made me happy, The last chapter did not. Ian Mc Ewan does these twists as well sometimes, and even though there is always a purpose, it makes me want to punch a wall. But it did not spoil this novel for me. Five stars. I can't write book reviews for toffee, but wanted to put my opinion in here as Shriver deserves the effort. Worth every penny - such a small price to pay for a book that made me think about life, entertained me and gave me 9 hours of pure bliss. Thank you Lionel. I can't wait for the next one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable, dark humour and intriguing family account of obesity, 21 Jun 2013
By 
K. J. Noyes "Katy Noyes" (Derbyshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Big Brother (Hardcover)
I haven't been tempted by a Shriver since We Need to Talk about Kevin, but the premise of this intrigued me.
A woman in her forties has invited (reluctantly) her elder brother, a musician, to stay with her, her husband and her stepchildren while he's going through a rough patch in his career. When he gets off the plane, she fails to recognise him due to his huge weight gain.

It's a story about weight yes, but mostly it's a really poignant and insightful account of sibling affection and relationships. Pandora is now a successful (though slightly bored) businesswoman, who has always looked up to and admired Edison, her talented jazz musician brother, and to have their roles reversed is neither welcome nor comfortable. Her two step-children view their step-uncle very differently to each other, wannabe-screenwriter-and- school-dropout reacting with disgust and her younger empathic step-daughter more forgiving and accepting. I loved Pandora's husband as a character and foil to Edison. Health-conscious, obsessive, perfectionist Fletcher is everything Edison is not. He's also not afraid to 'tell it like it is' and resents his brother-in-law reigniting the pally relationship with Pandora in his house.

The development is wonderfully realistic - there are very harsh scenes to cope with that focus on the effects of Edison's weight, but the characters and story are quite intriguing and you just want to know what's going to happen. Is Edison going to eat himself to death? Will Fletcher kick him out? And is Pandora serious when she says she'll move in with Edison and help him lose the weight?

There's also an interesting back-story of how Pandora gained her small fortune with a talking doll business, which probably has something clever to say about fads and advertising, but I enjoyed the idea of her mocking/loving creations without thinking any more deeply about it.

The ending was a bit of a kick in the teeth for me. A surprise that made me look differently at what went before, but didn't spoil my overall enjoyment.

I'll still say that 'Kevin' trumps this, but it's a very well-written, funny and engaging story from a talented author.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So near but so far from being a great read, 7 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Big Brother (Kindle Edition)
Lionel Shriver has written a gripping story that interweaves the modern difficulty with food and the complexities of family relationships. It is beautifully written as one would expect from such an accomplished author who succeeds in creating a wonderfully compelling atmosphere for the reader, every character jumps off the page and the reflections on American culture are totally believable. 75% of the way through I couldn't put the Kindle down as I began to anticipate the blockbuster revelation of an ending for which Shriver is famous, the kind of ending that blew me away in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Sure enough the totally unexpected ending came, but I actually felt cheated by it; the twist in the tail is not about a character, or the plot, it's about the telling of the story and hence is aimed at the reader. Other reviewers obviously enjoyed the ending and I can understand that, but I was so disappointed that for me it spoilt what was otherwise an excellent read.
Edited March 2014: Not for the first time Lionel Shriver's work has haunted me as I have been wondering if my disappointment with the ending was misplaced in some way. So, five months after finishing the book I have come back and re-read Part III, which is of course the end. There is no doubt that it is carefully crafted and a totally unexpected twist; it provides a clear and sometimes harsh dose of reality. So, I remain of the view that many will find it a superb ending, but it still didn't work for me; maybe I'm too simplistic, I wanted to be left stunned, or laughing, or crying, but once again I just felt deflated. Don't let me put you off reading it, the fact I was driven to come back is surely a good sign.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wishful thinking, 8 Jun 2013
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Big Brother (Hardcover)
Lionel Shriver is again playing with/punishing her readers. As in The Post Birthday World, there are two takes on this story.

Personally I would have truly preferred to have come upon Big Brother in an entirely innocent state, without having seen any pre- publicity, although even the cover with it's Hitchcock-ian silhouette gives the game away. Without foreknowledge I could have been as shocked as Pandora found herself, at the airport meeting point, when she was looking out for her handsome, lithe and lively muso brother, Edison.

The complicated construct employed so skilfully by LS allows all sides of this already fractured family to have more than their say. You might find as I did, that the log jam of jumbled up insider jazz scene talk, plus the regular harking back to glory days when their father Travis was a famous tv actor, appearing regularly in a bowdlerised family situation drama, was all too dense for comfortable assimilation. What is more boring than someone recounting the plot of a tv programme back to you, however relevant it may to the relics involved here.

All the references are USA - food, music, shopping; no mercy is shown to UK readers, we have to `suck it up'. This autocracy is to be expected and usually wouldn't matter much but the plot line is fairly loose and therefore it grated on me more than I would have liked.

Some folk come out of all this better than others and that is the fun of the story. Best of all are the pertinent observations on the issue of obesity, greed and the newish habit of general `sizing people up' and judging their strength of character from that which has become more everyday.

As Lionel explains, her message becomes `We are meant to be hungry'. I will take that from the book, and excuse the wonky ending which tried my patience and made me feel slightly used and messed about with.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner, 31 May 2013
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This review is from: Big Brother (Kindle Edition)
I saw a review of this book and downloaded a sample on my Kindle. When I reached the end I just had to buy the whole book to carry on reading! In fact in the end I had to plug my Kindle into the charger while reading, as I had run the battery down...I am a dyed-in-the-wool non-fiction reader and only read a novel if it is excellent. Well, this one is. It is a superbly crafted story of family tension which revolves around gaining, losing and regaining weight...anyone who has done either of these will find much in common with the main characters. It is in part an autobiographical novel and as Lionel Shriver is herself a very slender fiftysomething (not easy to attain), I suspect much of the detail comes from her own experience. There are some Americanisms which were new to me; I'd have thought a Hy-Vee was some kind of all-terrain vehicle, but it turns out to be a supermarket, and a Cinnabon I'd have thought was a kind of moth or butterfly - but it's a cake! Or doughnut. I just couldn't put this book down and am sorry I've come to the end! I must add that this book contains two extraordinary scenes; one, a blow-by-blow account of a horrendous food binge (the diversity of foods consumed will come as no surprise to many!) And two, an account of an even more horrendous visit to the toilet - it truly is not for the faint-hearted, though I found it absolutely hilarious!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Food for Thought, 13 May 2013
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This review is from: Big Brother (Hardcover)
I read this over the weekend, as it was a fast-paced read. I do recommend it, but it's not an easy read. It deals with issues of sibling relationships and also our relationship with food - the big brother being precisely that. Pandora is shocked by the extent of her brother's obesity when she meets him again. We also have the contrast of her marriage to a man obsessed with his health and fitness, who appears to eat only brown rice and broccoli. A lot of the narrative is taken up with analysis of food and what it really means to us, but mostly this book is a story about a sister and brother. I was totally caught up in the story and then the author did something which made me go 'woa what!!!' Dont want to give any spoilers but would be interested to hear what others think of this sometimes disturbing but welll written read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hated it, 12 May 2014
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This review is from: Big Brother (Kindle Edition)
There is something deeply distasteful about this book which falls uneasily between satire and a sort of reality. The characters behave in an unbelievable way and the end is a cheat. The writer seems to have a poor grasp on how relationships work and the plotting lacks credibility, it is also very American but in a bad way. Really, don't bother to read it, it will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant twist in the tale!, 6 May 2014
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I have only read We have to talk about Kevin from this author which was also so good. This book did not let me down in any way, will try some others.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weighty Issue., 7 Mar 2014
This review is from: Big Brother (Paperback)
Lionel Shriver is perhaps best known for her novel We need to Talk about Kevin which tells the story of a school massacre told through the eyes of the perpetrator's mother. It was a phenomenal success and divided opinion. If, in the unlikely event you haven't yet done so, it is certainly worth reading now.

In Big Brother, Shriver tackles the controversial question of obesity, especially in American society. The story is narrated by Pandora, a middle-aged woman living with her husband Fletcher Feuerbach and stepchildren Tanner and Cody. She has always looked up to her big brother Edison, a jazz musician, who left home at a relatively early age. Out of the blue Edison announces he is coming for a visit having been virtually out of touch for several years. When Pandora collects him at the airport she is appalled at just how obese her brother has become. She herself is overweight (although nothing on the scale of Edison's obesity) while her husband has, himself, an uneasy relationship with food, practically living on brown rice and broccoli; in addition he is addicted to exercise in the form of cycling.- and is quite superior in his attitude to his wife and brother-in-law.

With the arrival of Edison, the atmosphere becomes increasingly fraught in the Feuerbach household and when Fletcher presents Pandora with an ultimatum - him or her brother, she chooses Edison and they move out and into an apartment together where Pandora becomes her brother's diet guru! And so the battle begins... There are a lot more facets to this story, including Edison and Pandora's upbringing.

Despite none of the characters being particularly engaging, I still enjoyed the book since Shriver, as is usual with her, does not shirk from criticism of obesity and gives an interesting perspective to this ever-growing (no pun intended) problem. She also draws a comparison between obesity and weight problems in general and social status. She makes a good fist of shattering the myth that when hugely overweight people lose massive amounts of weight they immediately become happy and well-adjusted human beings. I considered this aspect of the issue interesting and very convincingly handled.

I find Shriver's writing style appealing and easy to assimilate but thought this book lacked a deeper narrative as the reasons for Edison's obesity are never explored in any real sense. I would still, however, advise readers that this is a novel worth reading.
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