I love Lionel Shriver. She never writes a typical story, she always manages to find and interesting and unusual subject matter. She likes to explore the subtleties of relationships within families; having children, not having children, competitiveness in couples, our responsibilities to our partner or our siblings, that sort of thing.
This story is narrated by Pandora, in her forties, she lives contentedly with her husband and stepchildren. Her older brother is having financial problems and also he needs a place to stay so she offers for him to come and stay with them for a while. She has not seen him for a long time and when he arrives, she is horrified to see that he is fat. Not just a bit fat, hugely obese.
The book tackles subjects around obesity; society’s reactions to it, issues of culpability, and how comfort eating can be an outward sign of depression. The other side to the story is a look at our responsibilities to our families. Pandora has to choose between her husband, who she has chosen to love, and his children, and her older brother, who has nobody else to help, and who needs her, but is an adult who ought really to be able to take care of himself.
I found both these storylines fascinating. I have not been directly affected by either obesity or a sibling in need, but then, I have not been touched by most of the issues that Shriver has tackled in her previous novels, but she explains the thoughts, feelings and inner turmoils of her characters so well that you do empathise with them all.