Full House Reading Challenge – Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – Contains spoilers

Genre: Literary Fiction, Family

Narrative Style: First person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2013

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Pandora goes to pick up her big brother, Edison, from the airport, she doesn’t recognise him. He has become a literal big brother, that is he is extremely fat. Pandora’s husband is a health nut and when Edison starts to cook extremely unhealthy meals for everybody, things become tense. Then Pandora decides that something drastic needs to be done and moves in with Edison to help him shed the pounds. 

Reading Challenges – Full House Reading Challenge – Size word in title.

There is a lot that is good about this book. I always enjoy Shriver’s novels and the way she tackles big themes. Here, the thoughts on obesity and the way society eats its problems are dealt with in an interesting and emotional way. The characters of Pandora and Edison are complicated and realistically drawn. I did get fed up with Edison’s constant jazz talk but it was consistent with his character. It would annoy me in real life so it was nothing to do with Shriver’s writing.

The story starts when Pandora goes to pick Edison up from the airport to stay with them as he has nowhere else to go. There is already tension between Pandora and her health nut husband, Fletcher, about the visit. So when Edison arrives and he is 200 pounds heavier, you know there are going to be sparks flying.

The first section of the novel details this stay in all its gory detail. As Edison pours his heart into making massive, unhealthy meals, Fletcher becomes more and more controlling of his own intake.  No one discusses Edison’s obesity but ignore the problem so he becomes a literal elephant in the room. Fairly soon, things reach a breaking point.

When it becomes apparent that Edison has no prospects at all, Pandora decides to help him lose weight and they move in together, much to the annoyance of Fletcher. (If truth be told, it was hard to understand what Pandora saw in Fletcher. He could have done with a little rounding out, character wise.) They then embark on a miraculous diet which eventually sees Edison losing the required amount of weight. This section was interesting as it started to explore the reasons behind Edison’s weight gain. Edison becomes livelier and more like the brother that Pandora remembered from her youth as he loses weight. He becomes a metaphor for the way that society views fat people as not quite human. His humanity returns with his slimmed down body.

At the end of this section, they throw a huge party to celebrate Edison’s weight loss. All is going well until Edison realises that Pandora will return to Fletcher and he will be on his own. He begins to overeat again and quickly regains the weight. All through the novel, the nature of the sibling relationship is examined and compared with that of a married couple. In the end, Pandora realises that her relationship with Edison is unhealthy and returns to Fletcher.

This is where it all goes a bit wrong. Suddenly, Pandora begins offering different possibilities for Edison. Maybe he did this, maybe he did that and then we are into the final section of the book. Pandora then confesses that she didn’t move in with Edison and that none of that section was true. I know on some level it is stupid to complain about a writer selling you a lie but I find this particular narrative trick incredibly annoying. It’s a cheap trick. I can see the point Shriver was trying to make – Pandora feels guilty that she did nothing to help Edison so she concocts the fantasy to make herself feel better after his death. Also, it is a more realistic ending than the miraculous weight loss. Still, it had the feeling of being led up the garden path.

It’s a shame because I had been really enjoying this book. I couldn’t put it down but now all I am left with is the feeling of having been cheated.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Spring TBR list.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This weeks topic is Ten books on your Spring TBR list. So here is what I plan to read over the next few months. Although to be honest, it may take me the entire spring just to read War and Peace.

  1. The Noise of Time – Julian Barnes – I don’t actually possess this book yet but I love Barnes and I do intend to buy it as soon as possible.
  2. Room – Emma Donahue (Full House Reading Challenge – Borrowed book) I didn’t really fancy this book when it first came out but since then I have seen the film and I am keen to see how it would work as a book.
  3. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides (Full House Reading Challenge – Diversity). I really enjoyed The Virgin Suicides so I’m looking forward to this one.
  4. The Immoralist – Andre Gide (Full House Reading Challenge – European Author) This has been one my TBR list for a long time although I have only just come into possession of a copy.
  5. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (Full House Reading Challenge – published Pre 2000) I recently inherited a copy of this book which has also been on the list for a long time.
  6. After Alice – Gregory Maguire – I got this for Christmas a couple of years ago and really ought to have read it by now.
  7. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers (Full House Reading Challenge – On TBR Shelf for more than 2 years.) There was a lot of competition for this category. I chose this because it is a classic and I feel I should have read it by now.
  8. Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin – After reading a couple of this series that I’d missed from the middle, I am now going to read one from near the end. Who says you have to read them in the correct order!
  9. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy  (Full House Reading Challenge – More than 500 Pages.) This is next on the list once I’ve finished reading Big Brother by Lionel Shriver. I must admit, I’m a bit daunted but now that I’ve said I’m going to read it, I have to read it so that’s good.
  10. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters – This has been recommended to me a couple of times lately so I bought it for my kindle.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I loved more or less than I expected.

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s list is books that you loved more or less than expected. I’ve decided to do five of each.

Books I Loved More Than I expected:

  1. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis I wouldn’t actually say I love this book. It’s not that sort of story. But it is compelling and it isn’t merely misogynistic violence towards women. Patrick Bateman is a tragic character who sums up the vacuity of modern life.
  2. Looking for Alaska – John Green I had previously read The Fault in our Stars and while I didn’t hate it, I did find it a bit annoying. I expected that Looking for Alaska would be the same. Instead, I found a sweet and tragic story with a lot fewer of the tics that makes Green so hard for me to read.
  3. The Song of Fire and Ice series – George R.R. Martin – Back before the TV series started, the first Game of Thrones book was reccommended to me by a pupil in one of my year 11 classes. I wasn’t really convinced- it was not the sort of genre I usually read – but she thrust the book into my hand and it seemed rude not to read it. I was immediately hooked.
  4. Some of Your Blood – Theodore Sturgeon – I had no idea what this was about or who Sturgeon was. I was expecting a trashy horror story. Instead, this is a psychological tale with many layers of horror.
  5. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh – I don’t really do classics but I’m glad I picked this one up. It is beautifully written and was compelling all the way through.

Books that I loved less than I expected:

  1. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood Atwood is usually a given love for me especially her dystopian works. This isn’t a bad story and if it had been written by someone else, I probably wouldn’t have been so harsh. But it just didn’t live up to her other works.
  2. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins I often don’t love what everyone else loves and that was certainly the case here. It was too obvious what was happening and none of the characters were convincing. Over-rated.
  3. Divergent Series – Veronica Roth While this is an interesting idea, it didn’t grab me like The Hunger Games did. I just couldn’t see how the world could have come about.
  4. The Secret History – Donna Tartt I read this relatively recently although it had been on my to be read list for a long time. It was a case of not knowing what all the fuss was about. There is nothing exceptional about the plot or the writing.
  5. Porno – Irvine Welsh I must admit that I haven’t really enjoyed an Irvine Welsh book for a while now. None of them live up to the early books and this certainly didn’t compare to Trainspotting.

Full House Reading Challenge – Troubles by J. G. Farrell

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Genre: Irish Fiction, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: Third personmfoudi1m_jcgjux-pirkv2w

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1970

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The Major Brendan Archer arrives at the Majestic Hotel after fighting in the Great War. He may be engaged to the owner’s daughter,  Angela, but the details are hazy. This is not helped when Angela is evasive and the Major is too polite to force the issue. The hotel itself is starting to fall apart and its inhabitants too have seen better days. The hotel is a metaphor for the Irish question and the privilege of the Anglo-Irish. 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge – Prize Winner – The Lost Booker Prize 2010

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book. Maybe more action. Or perhaps being more directly involved with the ‘troubles’. Anyway, it did not grab me. It was a slog to get through it. Don’t get me wrong, it was very well written, but nothing happened.

At first, I thought that it was just the fact that the book was older and so didn’t have the modern tendancy to start the story immediately. I kept thinking, it’ll start soon but it never did. There are a lot of clever set pieces but they don’t really lead anywhere. There is no narrative arc as such. More just a straight line.

The shambolic hotel and its owner, Edward Spencer are clearly meant to represent the English position in Ireland at this time. By the end, the hotel is falling apart and Spencer appears to be going mad. There is Padraig with his love of dressing up in women’s clothes who is humiliated by the British soldiers. There are run ins with Sinn Feiners and hints at the violence of the colonial world but again, it doesn’t quite add up to a story. Everytime, it seemed that an interesting plot line was going to get going, it instead disappeared.

It took me nearly a month to read this book. At times, I didn’t even want to pick it up. I’ve rated it 3/5 because it was well written and it was clever but it just wasn’t to my taste.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Falls – Ian Rankin

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Genre: Detective

Narrative Style: Third person from a variety of points of view

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2001unknown-1

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A student disappears and the obvious target is her boyfriend. But isn’t that a bit too obvious? Rebus thinks so. The mystery deepens when it appears that she was playing an online game which lead her to the place where she died. When a strange doll in a coffin shows up near the home of the missing girl, Rebus becomes obsessed with finding other coffins that have appeared in the past. Is this case linked to other disappearances some 20 years ago? 

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Page Turner

This was a bit of a catch up read. The first Rebus book I read was right in the middle of the series and at first I just read whichever books I could get my hands on. Although I have read the first six in order, I have also read the last three. So rather than read the whole lot in order again, I am now in the process of plugging gaps. Of which this is one. I rationed myself a bit – I read the previous book – Set in Darkness  – before Christmas and deliberately did not let myself read this straightaway. As a result I was excited about reading it.

It did not disappoint. John Rebus is an interesting character who never tires in his efforts of self-sabotage. He becomes so obsessed with an old case where strange coffins containing dolls appeared shortly after the disappearance of a young woman that he misses more obvious clues to who the murderer was in his current case.

Siobhan was also playing lone wolf this time, showing that it may be true that she spends to much time with Rebus. It is interesting that there seem to be few options for her – she can either play the male game like Gill Templar and gain promotion or she can be an outsider like Rebus. As with Rebus, her keeping her information to herself could have gone badly wrong. However, it is not like things work out all that much better for characters who do toe the line such as Grant Hood.

The history of Edinburgh is one again used to good effect. The discussion of Burke and Hare and the strange Arthor’s Seat dolls gave the novel a macabre aspect which was very enjoyable. It is this element, as well as Rankin’s clear love for the geoegraphy of Scotland, that raises this series above the usual.

In the end, there were some cliches. The last minute rescue of Rebus’ girlfriend, the evil pathologist and the revelation of the murderer were all overused tropes. Having said that, this book was first published in 2001 and it is quite feasible that they weren’t so tired then. There is a proliferation of detective stories these days, both in print and on TV so it is bound to feel as if some stories have been told before. And even if they were already cliches at the time, I am willing to let Rankin off the hook because the writing was exceptional.

Full House Reading Challenge – Gateway to Fourline – Pam Brondos

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Genre: Fantasy, 

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2015unknown

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Natalie is studying at university while her family are in financial difficulty. She starts a job at a costume shop but soon discovers that there is more to the shop than meets the eye. Soon she finds herself in an alternative world, trying to help save it from disaster.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Not for me

This was a Kindle First book. It’s not a genre I normally read but it was the most interesting out of that month’s choices. As such, it has sat on my Kindle for quite a long time. I knew it was not really going to suit me.

As I don’t really get on with this genre, it has to be something special if I am going to enjoy it. Unfortunately, this is really quite ordinary and I didn’t feel compelled to read on in the series.

The first problem was the plot. The opening chapter is set entirely in Fourline and it did grab me. I was interested in how the politics were going to be set up. There were hints at problems to come, people to save and so on. I thought maybe I’d been wrong. However, the book then swings into this world and the life of Natalie and it is a while before we get back into what is going on in Fourline. By then, I had lost interest.

Although written in the third person, the book is written from Natalie’s point of view. Because she doesn’t understand what is going on, the reader doesn’t get much of a picture of the situation in Fourline. I can see why this might be done but for me, I would have liked more information about the situation there and the terrible things that were happening. It all felt as if it was at one remove and I was detached from it all.

There were lots of hints at interesting stories and characters but because of the focus on Natalie they were underdeveloped. I was unconvinced that Natalie would have been so keen to risk her life for a world she knew nothing about. I think I might have liked it more if I could have learned more about Fourline and maybe this will happen in the next books but I haven’t got the patience to find out. I have to conclude that this was not for me.

Full House Reading Challenge – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

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Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Culture

Narrative Style; First person, journalistic

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperbackunknown

Published: 2015

Synopsis: The story starts with Ronson discovering a Spambot posting as himself on twitter. He uses the righteous indignation of the Internet to get it taken down. He then begins to look at the phenomenon of online shaming. This leads him to talk to some of the people who have suffered badly at the hands of the Internet – Justine Sacco, Adria Richards and Lindsey Stone, for example – and discusses the best ways to survive shame. 

Reading Challenge – Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Non-Fiction

I was interested in this book for two reasons – the first was Ronson himself, an always enjoyable writer who tackles interesting subjects, the second was the subject matter. It has been with increasing distaste and disappointment I have watched such shaming unfold online. Unlike Ronson, I have never taken part. It is particularly disgusting to see the way the comments go when women are the object in question. No one deserves to be told they should be raped and abused. It is horrific.

Ronson first gets involved in the subject of online shaming when he uses the power of the Internet to get some researchers to take down the spambot they had made in his name. The comments turned nasty and Ronson won. They took down the spambot. Ronson cites early examples of the shaming of corporations into treating their customers better or newspapers being slapped on the wrist for printing homophobic or sexist stories. This was a new phenomenon and Ronson decided to investigate.

There is a difference between shaming corporations and shaming individuals although the basic impulse may be the same. (Ronson suggests that people think they are doing good in both situations.) This is what unfolds in the rest of the book as Ronson speaks to Justine Sacco (she of the I can’t get AIDS, I’m white tweet), Jonah Lehrer (who made up quotes in his books), Lindsey Stone (who mocked the sign for silence and respect at Arlington National Cemetry, to name but a few. Most of them were guilty of stupidity at most. Lehrer was more difficult to sympathise with but even then, you couldn’t help feeling that no one should have to read what people posted on the live twitter feed while he was trying to apologise. It is certainly true that a stupid tweet or photo should not still be impacting your life a year later.

Ronson also looks for solutions and ways to survive. He discusses the role of shame in a prison environment, visits a workshop for Radical Honesty and discusses the historical origins of shaming. All of which is very interesting and told in Ronson’s trademark style. However, what he can’t offer is any sort of solution or ways to avoid being shamed. And it certainly seems like this is something that is here to stay. In the Afterword, Ronson describes being accused of being racist for supporting Justine Sacco and of being a misogynist because of a misjudged comment about rape. His final advice is to the reader is to make sure that they don’t stay silent if they think that someone is being shamed, get involved and stand up for them. Empathy is the solution to shame. And it is true that we can’t leave the Internet to the trolls and lowlifes who would say that they would see someone raped or murdered because they made an ill-judged decision.