14 October, 2013

Book Review: Big Brother

Goodreads: For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and devotes hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

Thoughts: Shriver inspiration for this book came from her own brother who died from complications due to morbid obesity. My first thought was, could you write this book without that personal experience? There is a lot of stigma around weight, carrying it and losing it. As someone who does struggle with my weight, I know how annoyed and incensed I get when someone who has never had a weight issue tells me how to lose weight or, even worse, how fat they are. You feel insulted and belittled and it's only recently that I have come to accept that quite often that's not what people mean. The thing is fat is a very personal issue and one that people are frequently judged for by strangers, the media and even our own families. By having had experience with this issue through a family member, Shriver lends a legitimacy to it.
This is the first of Shriver's books I've read the whole way through since We Need to Talk About Kevin and I enjoyed it. She raises many questions about relationships, loyalty and blame. I also found the dichotomy between a husband who over controlled food and a brother who had no control over food interesting. Was what her husband doing any better than what her brother was doing? And again, having had personal experience of a certain level of food control in my childhood, I was aware of the possible implications on the kids at a later date.
Loyalty was a big thing to. Who do you owe your loyalty to? A family member you have chosen (your husband) or a family member you have had your whole life? (your brother) Or is it a matter of choosing who needs you most at that time? While I could understand Fletcher (her husband's) reactions, I felt he was an incredibly selfish man. He was also one of those who pre judges those who are fat and immediately assumes they can not change, that they are at complete fault for their situation and if they would just show a bit of will power they would be fine.  He is the exact person who makes you feel that you can never change, you will never lose the weight and so why should you try? In fact I wonder if Pandora would have chosen Emerson if Fletcher was not such as arsehole.
Then there is the end. It's not what you expect and I can imagine that some people would feel betrayed and angry about it. I was at first, but the more I thought about it, the more ok I was with it. And while I'd love to say more, I can't for fear of spoiling the book.
Big Brother is very readable. Funny in parts (laugh aloud funny), tragic in many. If you are incredibly sensitive about weight issues I wouldn't recommend it, but I do think it gives an interesting take on a growing issue in the western world.