Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

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Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A book that unexpectedly grew on me - irreverent, funny and unusual, definitely worth a read!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670922765

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When I began reading this book I wasn't entirely sure that I liked it. I didn't quite know how to take the Nina from the title. She's a twenty year old Nanny, employed by the editor of the London Review of Books and living near Regent's Park in North London. The book contains her letters to her sister, Victoria living at home in Leicestershire, and tell of the events and happenings in her life as a Nanny and then, going on, in her life as a student at Thames Polytechnic. Initially it felt like she was name dropping - Alan Bennett lives over the road and drops in for dinner most days; the father of Will and Sam, the two boys she is nannying, is Stephen Frears; down the road lives Claire Tomalin and her partner Michael Frayn...and yet, given chance, you begin to see that she isn't awed by the notoriety of these people (indeed, she tells her sister that Alan Bennett was in Coronation Street!) and actually they are just the neighbours and so it is less important that Alan Bennett (AB as he's referred to in the book) comes around for dinner every night since he isn't there for fame value but rather for his own unique place in this rather crazy family life memoir!

All of the letters are from Nina, so we never get to see what Vic replies to her sister though sometimes it can be inferred from whatever Nina writes in reply. I suppose some readers might find it irritating that the correspondence is one sided, and that many situations are not explained. I quite enjoyed what felt like a sneak peak into someone's private life. I wasn't sure about Nina initially. I didn't know if I liked her, or if it was important that I liked her, and it felt strange that this was an autobiography through letters and so this was really her and so was it okay to feel a little ambiguous about her? I think this confusion may also have had something to do with the family she is nannying for. Mary-Kay Wilmers is the mother, raising her two boys, Will and Sam. She's fierce, intellectual, and a wonderful mother. She and the boys all swear, quite strongly, and they're all very intelligent and have conversations that, at times, seem far and above what a nine year old might manage. But as I read more, and began to feel like I knew them all a little better, I started to understand them. Nina grew on me until she began to have me chuckling aloud, and I ended the book with a huge 'ahhh' when I read the afterword!

I suppose the joy of the letters lies in Nina's take on the situations she encounters. She transcribes conversations brilliantly, catching the tone and capturing the moment so well. A large proportion of the letters are made up of these snippets of conversation, like little mini plays, and it's through these that we, like Nina's sister Victoria, get to know the cast of characters in Nina's life. Alan Bennett is very dry, very funny, and rather sweet. It was most often his responses that would make me snort as I read. Nina's adventures with cooking are wonderfully funny too, and she experiments further as she exchanges recipes with her sister. When she leaves the household to study at Thames Polytechnic I felt a little bereft, wondering what could be left in the book without the little family dramas, but never fear, not only is it fascinating to see Nina 'learning' but her time with the family is not yet over.

She captures characters, creating them in your head so you really feel like you know them. She has a real knack for letter writing, and I feel sad that nowadays she's probably, like the rest of us, emailing her correspondence which just isn't quite the same as someone putting pen to paper. Her conversations with the boys are funny - if only all Nannying jobs came with charges like them! And the undercurrents of romance between Nina and Nunney (a friend and helper round at the Tomalin's house) are also funny and sweet. I suppose there will be readers who don't fancy an autobiography of literary North London. And there will be those who can't be doing with an entire book of letters. And of course others who take offence at the swearing. If none of the above sound like you though, give this a try. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.

You may find this puts you in the mood for reading something like The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.

Buy Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe at Amazon.com.

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