Having really enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin” when I saw “Big Brother” as part of a buy one get one half price deal in Waterstones I decided to give it a try.
“Big Brother” is the story of a pair of siblings, Pandora and Edison, and what happens when Edison comes to stay with Pandora and her family in Iowa and she discovers he has gained an enormous amount of weight.
Edison’s visit was already a contentious issue between Pandora and her husband, Fletcher, who, as an only child, doesn’t understand the bond between siblings and feels pushed out by the familial bond between Pandora and her brother. When Pandora arrives at the airport to collect Edison she overhears some of the other passengers complaining about having had to sit next to a horrendously obese man. Not having seen her brother in person for quite some time she is shocked when he is wheeled out by airport staff and realises he was the obese man the other passengers were complaining about. Not really knowing what to say she skirts the issue of his weight and tries to pretend nothing has changed.
Things go from bad to worse as Edison and Fletcher take it in turns at doing the cooking with Edison seeming determined to make the most calorific meals possible and Fletcher equally determined to counterbalance this indulgence on the nights that he cooks by making the most bland, low calorie, low fat meals possible.
As the visit stretches on Edison’s presence is putting a massive strain on Pandora’s relationship with Fletcher and it is clear that Edison has problems of his own when Pandora comes home early from work one day and finds him involved in a massive binge of seemingly anything edible he can get his hands on, including eating sugar from the bag with a spoon.
As his visit draws to a close Pandora decides to take matters into her own hands and decides enough is enough, she is going to become Edison’s personal dietician and make sure he loses enough weight to bring his health problems down. Fletcher is adamant that Edison can’t stay at the house beyond when his flight is booked to take him back to New York so Pandora rents an apartment for the two of them to live in and they embark on a crash diet, initially living on packets of protein powder before gradually bringing in real food again. Fletcher has made his opinion on the matter clear and eventually says if Pandora won’t go home he wants a divorce.
As the 12 month mark approaches and Edison is nearing his target weight of 163 pounds, Pandora’s friend, Oliver, warns her that Edison will never want to let her go, he’s already talking of plans for the 2 of them for way into the future and Oliver feels he has just replaced his compulsive overeating with compulsive calorie counting and will struggle to ever be able to eat normally. Will Edison hit his target weight? Is Oliver right and Edison’s becoming too reliant on Pandora?
As a dieter myself I really enjoyed this book. I know how easy it is to fall into bad eating habits and before you know it your weight has crept up and all of a sudden you realise you’re a lot bigger than you used to be. I didn’t get as big as Edison or need to go on as extreme a diet as he did but I did gain a fair bit of weight and have been working hard to get rid of it.
I found Pandora’s attitude to Edison’s weight gain very familiar, when you put weight on nobody really mentions it. Weight gain and fat in general are very much a taboo subject still. My friends and family would happily comment on the weight of strangers but nobody ever said hey, you know you’ve been looking like you’re gaining a bit of weight, maybe you should cut back on some things. This, in turn, enables you to fool yourself into thinking it’s not that bad. I would tell myself that if I had really put on that much weight that people would have noticed and commented and because they hadn’t it mustn’t be as bad as I was imagining it was. It’s all just self deceit. Edison tells Pandora he uses an old picture on his website and makes sure that nobody ever puts anything online to suggest that he isn’t as thin as he pretends he is.
My only complaint would be that it was written in first person narrative from Pandora’s viewpoint, which gives us a very skewed view of Edison and his weight problem. I can see why Shriver has written it in this way for the plot of the book but I would have liked to have seen more of the views of the other characters.
The only other book of Shriver’s I have read is “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and this is certainly very different to that but it was well written, the characters were engaging and I would definitely recommend it.