Title: Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life
Author: Nina Stibbe
What I think so far: In 1982, Nina Stibbe moved from Leicester to London to become nanny to Mary-Kay Wilmers’s children. Working (somewhat informally, it has to be said) for the editor of the London Review of Books clearly gave this book’s twenty year old subject an invaluable immersion into the literary world of 55 Gloucester Crescent. This is a street where Alan Bennett pops over for tea on the regular and Samuel Beckett sits behind you in the theatre. Anything can happen.
Written in an epistolary style, it’s very easy to pick up and put down again and Stibbe has a Blyton-esque charm that makes you want to be her dear, dear friend. It doesn’t matter that she’s a bit naff at cooking, or says what she’s thinking – sometimes at others’ expense. She is very funny, very human, writing to her sister Vic throughout the novel.
Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that my sister is called Victoria and is also embarking on a career as a nurse that made me feel at home right away, maybe it’s the coincidental disastrous meals conjured out of turkey mince, or maybe it is just the breezy conversational tone of each of the letters.
Whether she’s slagging off her reading list for her English degree, moaning about literary theory or living vicariously through her friend Stella’s sexual shenanigans, it’s hard not to warm to this tale which is at its heart about finding a home away from home.
“- Anyway, I don’t believe every cloud has a silver lining.
– They don’t.
– But philosophically?
– No, some things are 100 percent total shit.”
Mary-Kay, referred to as MK throughout, becomes the no-nonsense cool mother that you wish were your own. Her sons are obviously extremely intelligent and their verbal wit throughout the letters matches Stibbe’s own. It’s somewhat cheating to say this book is ‘By my Bedside’ when it is so near to the end, but I can’t help but want to shout about it to the world.
Would I recommend? Absolutely – to anyone who read Malory Towers growing up, to anyone who has watched The Lady in the Van, to anyone vaguely interested in ‘80s literary London and to anyone who loves a nice, heart-warming easy read.
Words by Beth Kirkbride