Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

I wonder how many reviewers have used the word quirky or a synonym to describe this book. It is witty, it is a romance but mixed up in all of that is trauma, lots of trauma, an enormous hive of bees, dogs and some minature donkeys. I have seen the front cover all over the place and often wondered why it had a dog with his tongue sticking out towards another’s mouth – well it’s probably to reflect all the oral sex that is described in the book and a whole lot politer than putting labia shaped ‘like a lotus flower’ on it.

Greta (or Rebekah) has moved to Hudson ‘where the horny go to die’ and is living in a ramshackle but wonderful, old house that is cold and has a large bee hive on the ceiling in the kitchen. She has taken a job transcribing sessions that a local therapist holds who is known as Om. It means she knows everyone’s secrets and can also, when she is out and about, identify people through recognising their voices. She regularly transcribes the sessions of someone she calls Big Swiss and eventually becomes obsessed with her. They meet because of their dogs and eventually have an affair but it is shadowed by their trauma. Big Swiss from being attacked by a man and only just surviving and Greta from her mother’s suicide. There is also Sabine who owns the old house who has to go into rehab for her drug habit. So here we have three women who have been traumatised in one way or another but who deal with it in different ways; one is open about it and tells other people, one is so ashamed that she has treatment without telling anyone else and the other doesn’t really realise that she is traumatised.

Whilst there is very dark side to this book, it is also about healing. About the unconditional love of animals and what they can do to help, about friendships and about facing up to your problems and dealing with them.

The best characters in the book are females with the men often being 2 dimensional. There is Sabine’s father who is ancient but makes a pass at Greta.

Yes, people age horribly. They suffer strokes. Their bodies and brains fall apart. But the male ego? Firmly intact until the bitter end.


There is the violent man, Luke the husband who is a nonentity and Gideon the beekeeper in his simple clothing and with his kind nature. And there is Om wearing  ‘a white fishnet tank top, a chunky cardigan, and white harem pants’. The women, however are complex, witty, fighters who keep on going and who are not always predictable. They are described clearly, both physically and emotionally with rich inner lives and none of the women see themselves as victims.

The book is also a commentary or side swipe at therapy culture and whether that heals or not. I’m not sure it does anything for Big Swiss, it might help Greta but Beagin does seem to suggest that you can go on and have a life and love after trauma

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