Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Big Brother

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published by Harper Collins
2nd January 2014
Paperback Edition

“I can’t believe they gave him a middle seat.”
     “They should really charge double, and leave the next seat empty.  I lost my armrest, and the guy was half in my lap.  And you saw how hard it was for the attendant to get the cart past him.”
       I was relieved when the woman’s suitcase arrived, since the pariah whom she and her seatmate had so cruelly disparaged must have been the very large gentleman whom two flight attendants were rolling into baggage claim in an extra-wide wheelchair.  A curious glance in the heave passenger’s direction pierced me with a sympathy so searing I might have been shot.  Looking at that man was like falling into a hole, and I had to look away because it was rude to stare, and even ruder to cry.
     “Yo, don’t recognize your own brother?”
     The smile I’d prepared in welcome crumpled.

I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my fortysome years have had to do with food. I don’t mean celebratory dinners, good fellowship; I man salivation, mastication, and peristalsis.  Oddly, for something I do every day, I can’t remember many meals in detail, while it is far easier for me to call up favorite movies, faithful friendships, graduations.  It follows, then, that film, affinity, and education are more important to me than stuffing my face.  Well done, me, you say.  But were I honestly to total the time I have lavished on menu planning, grocery shopping, prep and cooking, table setting, and kitchen cleanup for meal upon meal, food, one way or another, has dwarfed my fondness for Places in the Heart to an incidental footnote; ditto my fondness for any human being, even those whom I profess to love.  I have spent less time thinking about my husband that thinking about lunch.  Throw in the time I have also spent running indulgence in lemon meringue pies, vowing to skip breakfast tomorrow, and opening the refrigerator/stopping myself from dispatching the leftover pumpkin custard/then shutting it firmly again, and I seem to have concerned myself with little else but food.

It has to be said, Lionel Shriver has done it again.  The author of the incredible We need to talk about Kevin (see my previous post) has just written an explosive book focussing on that ever topical subject - food.  As this is an American author, then what better way to tackle our relationships about, and with what we eat than with the topic of obesity, of which American has a major problem.

Pandora Halfdanarson is a now flourishing business woman living in the state of Iowa; daughter of a successful soap-opera father, she has spent her life shunning the media. Her brother Edison hasn’t.  A known jazz musician he has dreamt of living life in the limelight ever since he can remember.  After a few years absence, he calls Pandora out of the blue, asking if he can visit.  The man who greets her at the airport is not the brother she remembers.  He has piled on the pounds to become a grotesque enlarged version of himself, to the extent that she initially doesn’t recognise him.

What follows is a graphically descriptive account of our relationships with food, and how not only this can affect those living with us, but also the way we are treated and regarded in society.  It’s an engrossing read that, pardon the pun, I devoured in only a few sittings. 

It’s not a light-hearted read, as fans of Shriver will already expect of her, but a brutally honest account with an element of truth in its telling.  I’ll be recommending this to many people to read.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

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