Books in Brief: "Love, Nina" by Nina Stibbe


THE TITLE: Love, Nina (2013)

THE AUTHOR: Nina Stibbe, an English writer. Love, Nina – an epistolary memoir – was her first book, and it won the Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2014 National Book Awards, and the Waterstones Book of the Year. 

THE BRIEF: In the 1980s, Stibbe was a nanny for London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers in Gloucester Crescent in London. She looked after Wilmers' two young boys, all the while penning hilarious letters to her sister about her daily activities and the Wilmers family and neighbours. It not only captures a particular moment in time, it's an insight into the literati of London, with whom she spent so much time in the most casual domestic circumstances. The book was adapted by Nick Hornby for a BBC TV series.

THE FIRST PAGE: "Dear Vic – It's fantastic here, the house, the street, London. You can hear the zoo animals waking up in the morning. Mary-Kay is funny. Nothing bothers her much – except she can't stand having too much milk in the fridge (they have skimmed). Her and Sam and Will all have the same basin haircut. Apart from that, she's quite fashionable. She swears a lot (f and c), and reminds me of Elspeth, but not an alcy."


The Guardian: "Nina herself has an ear for dialogue that would not disgrace Pinter (although her dialogue is pacier). What makes the book special is her understanding that it is often in the most inconsequential conversations that people reveal themselves most fully. The dialogue in this book never asked to be recorded; sometimes, it is so astonishingly slight that it seems fluky it survived to tell its tale. But that is what makes it gripping. Life caught on a flimsy wing. Nina is like a photographer snapping on the quiet, but her takes on people tend to be underpinned by teasing admiration... "

The Independent: "Her eye for comic detail is impeccable – from her and the boys "messing about" in a skip, to her discovery, only a couple of days before her dissertation is due, of a book that "pretty much contradicts everything I say and not only that. It says anyone who thinks what I've said is true is an idiot"; to the story of a friend of a friend who hangs around the South Bank theatres pretending to be an art student "sketching" the actors rehearsing, but really just in the hope of meeting eligible men. The only problem "is when the blokes ask to see the sketches her friend has done. They're just stick men... This is by far the funniest, most genuinely heart-warming account of the everyday I've read. Stibbe is an unassuming comic genius."

The Telegraph: "Her luck at landing in the middle of this classy cultural clique was for the most part lost on Stibbe, whose deliciously crisp and funny collection of letters home will likely be one of this Christmas’s surprise hits. One advance review bills it as “Adrian Mole meets Mary Poppins”. Very little of the human comedy in this clash of worlds depends on a knowledge of the literary figures featured."