I was all prepared to pan this book, I was mentally accumulating scathing reviews of the horrible, one-dimensional characters, the boring diatribes about the superfluous nature of food and the frankly lacklustre plot. In fact I held forth on this subject just last night when my housemate asked me what I was currently reading.
But then I reached page 390 and everything changed (which is very nearly an incredibly clever thing given the momentous significance of the figure 380 to the book’s central premise). For a brief moment everything I had thought about this volume was turned on its head and I had a series of revelations and emotions which I had not expected. And then, sadly, it ended just a shade too far back into preachy and leaving me curiously unable to decide on a final thought.
In brief the story centres around a group of people with improbable names – Edison Appaloosa, Pandora Halfdanarson, Fletcher Feuerbach – in a small Iowa town where everyone’s friends with the guy serving at the coffee shop (maybe Iowa’s really like that, I have no idea).
A depressed Edison flies in from New York to visit his sister Pandora and, realising that he’s put on a few more pounds than is healthy, she vows to get him back to the slim, happy chap she’s always looked up to. To be honest with you, as plots go I find this one a little…thin, if you’ll excuse the pun. Add to that Edison’s relentless monologues on jazz which drive his family (and readers) crazy and Pandora’s interminable quest to decide if there’s any point or enjoyment to food and it left me really cold. Not to mention Pandora’s moping over her, frankly vile, husband Fletcher.
I picked this book up because I remember reading an interview with Lionel Shriver where she complained that everyone always wants to talk about Kevin (see what I did there?) and never about her other works. ‘Fair enough’, I thought, ‘I really enjoyed Kevin so I should give something else a go.’ I don’t want to say that I regret that decision because that wouldn’t be entirely true – Big Brother DID make me think, not about food or obesity and definitely not about jazz but about….family maybe and the lies we tell ourselves to get by. That twist may have come a little too late to save my opinion of the book but I have to admire Shriver’s gift for taking you by surprise and switching things up.
Interestingly, while writing this review I checked out Shriver’s Wikipedia page and discovered that this book is essentially about her own brother who was morbidly obese and died a few years before Big Brother was published. That little titbit gives the whole think a new edge and makes it just a little bit more moving.