SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Big Brother
Author: Lionel Shriver
Page Count: 373
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Tone: Issue-driven, dramatic, reflective
1. Who is Big Brother dedicated to? Why? Do you think this is autobiographical fiction?
2. What did you think of Pandora? Was she likable? Did you connect with her?
3. How would you describe Fletcher, Pandora’s husband? Do you think that the two of them were happy together before Edison? What about after Edison?
4. Why do you think Fletcher dislikes Edison so much?
5. What would your reaction have been if you went to pick up a family member from the airport and they were three times the size you last saw them at? Is there a right or wrong reaction to have to in a situation like that?
6. Describe Edison. Was he a likable character? Did you connect with him?
7. What is the cause of Edison’s obesity?
8. Why do you think Edison never tried to reconnect with his ex-wife or son? Did this change your feelings about him?
9. Edison and Pandora had a LA childhood living with a TV star father. Do you think they liked their childhood? How did this altered upbringing affect them? Do you think that their nostalgic storytelling shut people out or invited them in? Explain.
10. What is Pandora’s company? Is it successful? Can she admit this? What does the admittance of success or failure show about Pandora’s character?
11. Would you every give a Baby Monotonous doll as a gift? Why? Would you like it if you received a doll? Why?
12. What does Fletcher do for a living? How does his business affect the family? Is it a successful business? How does its success or failure affect Fletcher and the way he interacts with his family?
13. Is Edison a successful jazz piano player? Was he ever a success? What do you think the turning point (for good or bad) was in Edison’s career?
14. Did reading Big Brother make you want to go listen to some jazz or to avoid it completely?
15. How would you describe Cody? How would you describe Tanner? Are they similar siblings or quite different? What is their relationship like compared to Pandora and Edison growing up?
16. Do you think that Tanner ran away because Edison filled his head dreams of stardom? Would Tanner have still quit high school if Edison hadn’t been in the picture?
17. Who is Oliver? What is his relationship with Pandora? How did this relationship make you feel? How do you think it made Fletcher feel?
18. Pandora took the drastic step of living with her brother for an entire year to be there to cheerlead and coach him to weight loss. How did this affect Pandora’s own family? How would you have reacted if you were Fletcher? Is this something you would have done if you were in Pandora’s shoes?
19. Was there ever a point you were worried about Pandora and her own weight loss? Do you think Edison noticed that his sister’s weight loss had gone too far? Did he say something to her? Why or why not? Did Fletcher say something to her about her extreme weight loss? Who ended up telling Pandora she had to eat more? Why do you think this voice came from outside the family unit?
20. Did you think that Edison would be able to take off all the weight? Did he take off all the weight? Did he keep it off? Why or why not?
21. There is a twist at the end of the novel – a twist that reveals that Pandora has made up the whole story. Edison is her brother and he is a larger man, but she never tried to live with him for a year to help him lose the weight. What did you think of this twist?
22. If Pandora made up the entire weight loss story, why would she end her tale with Edison gaining his weight back? Why didn’t she allow herself a happy ending? How did Edison die in Pandora’s real version of events?
23. What ending did you want? Does it match what ending the author gave?
24. Lionel Shriver often writes issue-driven fiction. What is your reaction to reading such a hot button book of fiction? Do you feel like Shriver is graceful or preachy when writing about obesity? Would you pick up other books by her?
25. Were there any parts of Big Brother that were shocking to you?
26. How would you describe the tone and pace of Big Brother to a friend? How did it make you feel? How quickly did it read?
27. Near the end of the novel, Pandora says, “However gnawing the deficiency, satiety is worse. So here is the thought: We are meant to be hungry.” What does the mean? (p. 372)
28. If one of your friends enjoyed Big Brother, what other books similar to it would you recommend to them?
29. Did reading Big Brother make you want to make changes in your own diet?
30. Why do you think obesity is such a large issue in America? Is it only about willpower? What are causes outside of willpower that might affect weight gain in America? (processed foods, marketing, food science, cost of food, portion sizes, etc.)
HarperCollins Reading Group Guide
Interview at Politics and Prose
Interview on English Pen
Interview with Here and Now
Interview with The New York Times
Profile of Shriver by Elle Magazine
Shriver writes on obesity for The Telegraph
Shriver writes on her brother for The Guardian