Lionel Shriver says it is too easy to blame the food industry for obesity
The author talks about her latest novel at the Independent Bath Literature Festival
Sunday 09 March 2014
Creating a novel about a morbidly overweight character, following the death of one’s own brother from obesity-related complications, would seem a challenge for any author. For Lionel Shriver, there was another problem: constantly writing about eating meant she often found it hard to resist indulging herself in the process.
Speaking about her most recent book, Big Brother, the author best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin confessed that it led to temptation.
“There’s only one thing harder than losing weight and that’s writing about it,” she said at the Independent Bath Literature Festival.
“Every time I returned to the manuscript I got hungry. I’ve heard from readers it had the same effect on them, so it’s actually a weight-gaining book. Maybe it should be sold with a packet of biscuits.”
Shriver’s brother, Greg, died in 2009. She said she had felt compelled to write the book, and had realised there are no simple answers to any of the psychological, social and even moral conundrums involved.
“We have brought a lot of condemnation to bear on the overweight,” she said. “It’s not just a health issue but a cultural denunciation – an indictment of their characters. That’s where I draw the line.”
Big Brother follows the 40-year-old Pandora Halfdanarson, a successful Iowa businesswoman and step-mother of two, who finds herself suddenly having to look after her 28-stone brother Edison – formerly a svelte New York jazz pianist – with potentially disastrous consequences for her marriage and family life.
Not only is Edison out of money, he breaks a prized item of her husband Fletcher’s carefully designed, high-end furniture. Together with Edison’s smart-arse sniping and gross, gargantuan bowel movements, this eventually goads Fletcher – a cycling freak and salad-eating “nutritional Nazi” – into a him-or-me ultimatum.
Contemplating how society, particularly in the West, might start to disentangle the mental knots into which it has tied itself over obesity, Shriver said: “A bizarre complication is that reward and punishment have become one ... If we have a plate of biscuits there is a reward, but also instantaneous self-punishment. ‘You shouldn’t have eaten that, you idiot,’ we tell ourselves. There’s an element of self-abuse going on.”
Shriver explained that she had seen this with her own brother. Like Edison in the novel, he had been responding to a series of disappointments in his life. “It’s as if he was taking revenge on himself for having disappointed himself.
“I’m uneasy with the whole blame thing,” she added. “It’s not that simple, even to blame the food industry. We have to get beyond just finding fault.”
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Al Pacino on suffering from depression: 'It can last and it's terrifying'
- 2 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
How to read Will Self: Unlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in September 2014
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain