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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061458570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061458576
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (292 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Shriver continues her fictional inquiry into the timely topic of obesity, launched in the The New Republic (2012), with a novel about how weight problems can alter the dynamics of a family in devastating ways. Pandora is a successful entrepreneur living in Iowa with her uptight husband, Fletcher. Pandora’s brother, Edison, is a once-popular jazz pianist in New York who can no longer pay his rent. Against Fletcher’s wishes, Pandora sends Edison a plane ticket to Iowa; when he arrives, she almost doesn’t recognize him owing to the “hundreds more pounds” he carries than when she last saw him. Edison’s slovenly habits disgust Fletcher, a “nutritional Nazi,” so when Pandora commits to helping Edison lose all those pounds, the siblings move to an apartment nearby. Shriver creates suspense by adroitly involving the reader in Pandora’s effort to help her brother, and as in previous novels, she injects an unexpected twist at the end, which some readers may find annoying rather than clever. Nevertheless, Shriver brilliantly explores the strength of sibling bonds versus the often more fragile ties of marriage. --Deborah Donovan


“As a writer, Shriver’s talents are many: She’s especially skilled at playing with readers’s reflexes for sympathy and revulsion, never letting us get too comfortable with whatever firm understanding we think we have of a character.” (Washington Post)

“The moving (and shocking) finale will have you thinking about the ‘byzantine emotional mathematics’ we all put ourselves through when overwhelmed with family responsibilities.” (

“(A) delicious, highly readable novel . . . (which) raises challenging questions about how much a loving person can give to another without sacrificing his or her own well-being.” (People, People Pick (4 Stars))

Big Brother is vintage Shriver - observant, unsettling, funny, but also, as Pandora admits, ‘Very, very sad.’” (Miami Herald)

“Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother has the muscle to overpower its readers. It is a conversation piece of impressive heft.” (New York Times)

“The ever-caustic Shriver has great fun at the expense of crash diets and a host of other sacred pop-culture, er, cows. Politically correct it’s not, but Big Brother finds the funny - and the pathos - in fat.” (USA Today)

“Her [Shriver’s] best work--Big Brother is her twelfth novel--presents characters so fully formed that they inhabit her ideas rather than trumpet them.” (New Republic)

“Pandora is a masterly creation.” (New York Times Book Review)

“The diet - the story of a heroically undertaken significant change - is pretty nearly irresistible. But what really powers this story, an outsize look at the most basic of human activities, eating, is a search for the definition, and appreciation, of ‘ordinary life.’” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“The latest compelling, humane and bleakly comic novel from the author of We Need to Talk about Kevin.” (Evening Standard (London))

“A great plot setup that presents an array of targets for Shriver to obliterate with her knife-sharp prose.” (The Rumpus)

“A surprising sledgehammer of a novel” (The Times (London))

“A gutsy, heartfelt novel” (Sunday Times (London))

“What would you do for love of a brother? For love of a husband? For love of food? In Big Brother, Shriver’s new and wonderfully timely novel, her heroine wrestles with these vexing questions. Only the scales don’t lie.” (Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy)

“The fellowship of Lionel Shriver fanatics is about to grow larger, so to speak. Big Brother, a tragicomic meditation on family and food, may be her best book yet.” (Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story)

“A searing, addictive novel about the power and limitations of food, family, success, and desire. Shriver examines America’s weight obsession with both razor-sharp insight and compassion.” (J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine and Commencement)

“Brilliantly imagined, beautifully written, and superbly entertaining, Shriver’s novel confronts readers with the decisive question: can we save our loved ones from themselves? A must-read for Shriver fans, this novel will win over new readers as well.” (Library Journal)

“An intelligent meditation on food, guilt, and the real (and imagined) debts we owe the ones we love.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Shriver brilliantly explores the strength of sibling bonds versus the often more fragile ties of marriage.” (Booklist)

“[Shriver] has a knack for conveying subtle shifts in family dynamics. . . . Ms Shriver offers some sage observations. . . . Yet her main gift as a novelist is a talent for coolly nailing down uncomfortable realities.” (The Economist)

“Shriver is brilliant on the novel shock that is hunger. . . . Most of all, though, there’s her glorious, fearless, almost fanatically hard-working prose.” (Guardian)

“Shriver is wonderful at the things she is always wonderful at. Pace and plot. . . . Psychology.” (Independent)

“Would I recommend Big Brother? Absolutely. It confronts the touchy subject of American lard exuberantly and intelligently; it makes you think about what you put in your mouth and why.” (Bloomberg)

More About the Author

Lionel Shriver is a novelist whose previous books include Orange Prize-winner We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Post-Birthday World, A Perfectly Good Family, Game Control, Double Fault, The Female of the Species, Checker and the Derailleurs, and Ordinary Decent Criminals.

She is widely published as a journalist, writing features, columns, op-eds, and book reviews for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Economist, Marie Claire, and many other publications.

She is frequently interviewed on television, radio, and in print media. She lives in London and Brooklyn, NY.

Customer Reviews

Love her style of writing & the characters she develops.
Jeannette Kelly
I found the premise of the story interesting but was disappointed how the author ended it.
carol mcclarren
In this story, Shriver handles the increasingly sensitive issue of weight.
Denise Crawford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 58 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

If haven't read this marvelous author before, you should know that it's always tricky giving a summary of the plot to any of her books without giving away spoilers; things are not always what they seem to be in her novels. What I can say is that this is the story of a woman named Pandora who is 41 years old and lives in Iowa with her husband Fletcher and his two children, 16 year Tanner and his 14 year old sister, Cody. Pandora is a successful entrepreneur and has her own company that makes specialty dolls. Fletcher makes custom furniture but works out of their house; so far his business has not done well and Pandora supports the household.

Big changes occur for everyone when Pandora's now almost destitute brother Edison comes out to visit her from New York. Edison was a semi-successful jazz pianist but his career and his life went downhill. The once handsome and svelte Edison is now a hugely obese man and when Pandora picks him up at the airport, she is stunned to see him this way. He comes back and stays with her and her family for 2 months and during those two months there is a lot of animosity between Edison and Fletcher. It doesn't help that Fletcher is a health-nut who rides his bike regularly and only eats low-fat and nutritious foods.

Pandora wants to help her brother and she decides to move in with him to an apartment nearby to put him (and her) on a strict weight loss routine, even at the risk of antagonizing her husband and alienating her kids. Is it worth the risk to take this chance on her brother? Will they succeed? And what will be the repercussions from this?
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Spindrift VINE VOICE on April 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I find myself still reeling with conflicting emotions as I continue to wage an internal debate over Lionel Shriver's absolutely delicious and "cautionary tale", "Big Brother". Readers who insist that they do not enjoy books that contain characters that they "don't like" may as well avoid this one completely. This is Lionel Shriver, after all, she is the magnificent crafter of the fascinating Eva Khatchadourian in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (I fear that if Shriver had been publishing in the 70's--I may have chosen not to become a mother!) and the amazingly concentric parallel narratives in the wonderful "Post Birthday World". So keep your dictionary close by (and know that not every word you look up will appear in your Oxford) and hold on tight...this is a breathtaking ride.

There are several major themes present in this novel. The obvious headliner being obesity, and how our culture deals with those afflicted and attitudes about food in general. Shriver makes some incredibly astute and nuanced observations on this epidemical phenomenon, so much so that the book becomes educational on the subject. But, just as the morbidly obese do not get that way without their own unique pathology, this author does not ignore the family and cultural dysfunction that contributes so exponentially to the creation of the "fat schlub".

Our protagonist, Pandora Halfdanarson, and her pathetic but adored big brother, Edison Appaloosa, have struggled through a childhood with a father who was also the "Dad" in a (fictional) sit-com, popular in the 70's. This is much more compelling than it initially sounds. Picture Robert Young's ("Father Knows Best") real life "Kitten"...
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn A. Getchell TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dear reading friend, I am not going to summarize the plot of Lionel Shriver's BIG BROTHER in this review. That would be a disservice to you. Instead I simply want to urge you to just pick up the book, skip the cover blurb (which in my opinion says more than you need to know), and dive right into the depths that Lionel Shriver is not in the least bit squeamish to plumb.

Lionel Shriver is fearless in her approach to the issues she brings to the surface in this novel. Opening BIG BROTHER is like opening the mythical Pandora's box of plague and disease. I'm referring to a few behavioral "evils" such as eating disorders, morbid obesity, addiction (including those of food and dieting), depression and suicide. In fact, the protagonist and first-person narrator of BIG BROTHER is a woman named Pandora.

The name Pandora from Greek mythology means "all-gifted" or "all-giving." It is probably not a coincidence then that those two meanings apply aptly to the novel's heroine, Pandora. Pandora is a successful entrepreneurial woman who is willing to risk her marriage and family in order to help her older, "big" brother Edison who is plagued by carrying an excessive measure of some very weighty behavioral issues. But how much is Pandora willing to sacrifice for the benefit of her brother? How does she gauge what she owes him or her husband or the rest of her family?

Lionel Shriver presents a lot of food for thought in this novel and poses pertinent questions regarding - why we overeat, why we easily get seduced by and addicted to food, why extreme dieting does or does not work, why major weight loss is challenging to maintain, why dieting can be as addictive as overeating, and more importantly, why we no longer know how to eat.
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