Review: Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe

I’ve not long finished reading Love, Nina and although I have a couple of other books in my waiting-to-review stack, I want to share this one first;  not least because of the recent TV mini-series adapted by Nick Hornby which, although good, I didn’t enjoy half as much as the book.

Love Nina

Reading the book very close to watching the TV adaptation was a coincidence and it wasn’t until I was already half-way through the book – and half-way in love with this delightful family and eccentric nanny that I saw the series was about to start on BBC1. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t watched them so close together as Nick Hornby takes a bit of artistic license with the anecdotes, names are changed and the feeling of the series is quite different to the book.

Nina Stibbe was aged 20 in 1982, when she left her home in Leicestershire and went to work as a nanny to two young boys in central London. Nina had no idea how to do nanny things; how to cook, clean or how to look after children! She was so appalling at housework her employer had to employ a cleaner while she was there as well! She had no idea who the eccentrics were who called round at the house, or who this Alan Bennett was who invited himself round for dinner nearly every day… but she had a good sense of humour and a matter-of-fact nature which seem to be all the essentials she needed. Most importantly Nina was very happy in her job and loved spending time with the boys, oft-times treating them to lots of fun like an older sister might.

Nina’s employer was Mary-Kay Wilmers and her two sons, Nina’s two charges, were Sam Frears (aged 10) and Will Frears (aged 9). Various other characters that crop up in the book include Jonathan Miller, Claire Tomalin and her son, Tom, Michael Frayn, Stephen Frears (the boys’ father), Ursula Vaughan Williams, and others.

Here’s a quote of Nina’s about her nannying style, taken from her blog, The Good Nanny by Nina Stibbe

“Then there was my child-minding style. I put Sam (aged ten and with some disabilities) into a builder’s skip for a laugh and struggled to lift him out again. I pushed him into a swimming pool because he didn’t fancy a swim and read Thomas Hardy to him pretending it was Enid Blyton. I did other things too awful to write here (things that are explained in detail in the book).

I completed nine-year-old Will’s homework for him to get it out of the way so that he could get on with a novel he was writing and taught him to draw a fake tattoo on his arm in ink and took both boys on grafitti-hunting expeditions. I pranged the car and made the boys promise on their mother’s deathbed not to tell her about it. I walked around barefoot and took them to the pub to play snooker. I smoked and swore like a trooper.”

The book takes the form of a collection of letters Nina wrote home to her younger sister, Vic which the two sisters apparently discovered some years later in Vic’s attic, to their absolute hilarity! There’s an honesty and warmth about them, such as you will only find between two people close to each other. Nina is quite frank about what goes on in Gloucester Crescent and passes on the odd snippet of wisdom to her sister as well as exchanging recipe ideas and other tips.

“Thanks for recipe. I didn’t do it exact – too many ingredients. I’ve not done anything with more than five/six things in it so far. Plus we don’t have the right attachments or a pestle. So I did my own version: Cooked chicken, almond flakes, curry powder and parsley, plus two packs Bachelor’s savoury rice.”

This is by far and away one of my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year and it’s one I will definitely re-read when I need some light humour, a good laugh, or even a bit of a pick-me-up. I’ve already recommended it to customers and it’s had a good response. It’s warm, endearing, refreshingly candid and hilariously naive and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it as a light-hearted read. In fact, if you haven’t got your beach reads for the summer sorted yet then add this one to your stack.

About the Author

Since this book is already about the author, there’s not a whole lot more to say! Nina has worked in book publishing, has also had two novels published – Man at the Helm and in June 2016, Paradise Lodge – and she lives in Cornwall with her family.

Where to Buy

You can buy Love Nina: Despatches from Family Life from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online fromhive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The current RRP for a new paperback is £8.99, ISBN no 9780241965092. Published by Viking/Penguin in 2013.

 

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