Tackling a weighty subject

In Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, a woman uses “nutritiional fascism” to help her morbidly obese brother lose weight.

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Most well-known for We Need to Talk about Kevin, the best-selling novel about a school massacre that made a successful transition to the big screen in 2011, Lionel Shriver is an undeniably accomplished novelist.

In Big Brother, the American continues her mission to tackle difficult but timely subjects; this time it’s obesity.

The plot appears unedifying: Pandora is a freakishly successful businesswoman and the stepmother to her husband Fletcher’s teenage children who is helping to support her spouse’s failing furniture business.

When Pandora’s brother Edison arrives to stay, her once-svelte, jazz-musician sibling is unrecognisably fat and as he stays way past his welcome – and breaks one of Fletcher’s beloved chairs – the tensions become unbearable. In a desperate bid to help her suicidal brother lose weight, they move into a flat together and commit to “nutritional fascism”, also known as a liquid diet.

Though the subject matter might seem as appealing as watching lard melt, Shriver is a keen social commentator who fully understands human frailty and emotion.