“Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life” by Nina Stibbe (2013) – book review

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. HAHAHA.  Laugh-out loud funny. Thank you for the recommendation, S.

Not since the original Bridget Jones hit the shelves back in 1996 has a book made me cackle so merrily. Helen Fielding had us all vicariously reliving our boozy office days nigh on twenty years ago, fancying the boss and counting calories like there was no tomorrow (not much has changed since then, except the boss is perhaps of retirement age now so less stratospheric) – more recently, Nina Stibbe recalls her nannying days with charges S&W (Sam and Will) and employer MK (Mary-Kay, ex wife of Stephen Frears, notable for founding the London Review of Books and all the more fascinating for having been reported as moving into the oxfordian Randolph Hotel with her father for her week of finals!!).

She moves lock, stock and barrel from Leicester to London and hangs out with the likes of Deborah Moggach, Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin and hubby Michael Frayn all living in close proximity, not to mention their own hired help Nunney, who eventually in real life becomes Nina’s permanent other half.

Nanny Nina writes very, very comical letters to her invisible sister Victoria who was working at the time in a nursing home back up North. You can’t help but suspect that her replies were pretty funny too, yet sadly hers weren’t kept and so she is actually the secret power behind the throne who has hung on to these witty pearls, enabling them to become fully-fledged oysters on their own account.

I mention food, because there are quite a lot of ongoing references to feeding the family in these pages. As a Brit reading about Brits, the spot is perfectly hit, and the dinners are in fact more often miss than hit, so there is much to empathise with: I loved all the references to throwing a ready-made tin into the mix, and the concoctions souped up to the table with varying degrees of success. Not a hint of Mary Poppins here – Nina S sees herself more as a kind of itinerant older sister, and frequently doles out advice that would have Julie Andrews diving into her carpetbag, but by golly Miss Molly it is warm, fuzzy and genuinely funny stuff.

Sheer brilliance in evoking the nanny-employer relationship (“Dear Vic, Good news. Mary-Kay has pranged the car at long last – a relief after all mine (prangs). She drove into a rope, which was ‘the same colour as the road and sky’.”).

And many burst out loud laughing moments, including this vision of after school activity going pear-shaped :

“Sam: I’m never going to trust her again.

MK: Why?

Sam: She pushed me in (to the swimming pool).

MK: (a bit shocked) You pushed him in?

Me: I had to.

MK: Why?

Me: He didn’t want to go in.

MK: Surely that’s a reason not to push someone in?

Me: Unless it’s Sam.

Sam: Anyway, I’ll never trust her again.

Will: I haven’t trusted her since 1981.

Sam: You didn’t meet her till 1982.

Will: Well, there you are.”

Do read this if you haven’t already, it is a laugh a minute and makes you feel resoundingly good about life. The second half of the book sees Nina propelled into college life after spending so much time hobnobbing with literary types, slightly Pygmalion style, but still very refreshing and of course awash with references to the books she now comes across. Indeed, ‘tis thanks more to Nina Stibbe than the BBC Best Loved Reads list that found myself ordering a copy of a book I’d not even heard of a month ago: “Showed Mary-Kay the reading list. She also thinks “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” is a good place to start… So that’s where I’ll start”.

Me too.

Read in April 2015.

Rating : 10/10

National Book Awards UK – Popular Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2014

Images taken from here and here.
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12 Responses to “Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life” by Nina Stibbe (2013) – book review

  1. Rachel says:

    Thanks for reminding me about this book – it was serialised on BBC Radio 4 last year and I loved the few bits that I heard

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh thank you Rachel, had no idea there had been a BBC4 serialisation – would love to have heard it. Tried to find some interviews with her on YouTube but to no avail. Have however succumbed and ordered “Man at the Helm” by N.S., is apparently even better. Nx


  3. susan says:

    That does sound funny, I may put that on a list for later! The swimming pool quote is very good! FYI The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist is meant to be the definitive English Socialist Novel and it is set in Hastings where I live so I have tried it a few times and not quite gone the whole way, Tony Benn spoke about it fondly and eloquently. I will finish it one day. (and that is another list)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will keep you posted, went to look on Amazon and there were 521 five star reviews! I think the copy I ordered has a foreword by Tony Benn, to boot. Fancy it being set in Hastings. x


  5. susan says:


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Loving the ‘likes’ …


  7. Monique says:

    Things you make us do, Nicola! I have now ordered “Love, Nina” as if i did not have a single book waiting to be read on my bookshelf! Do you accept responsibility for my inflated book buying budget?? xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. !! it’s dangerous territory, I know, but you are equally guilty for putting additions on my Wish List!… we can keep each other posted, xxx


  9. Pingback: Reading Challenge from January 2015 | Literary ramblings etc

  10. Denise says:

    Oh this was great, wasn’t it! So warm and as someone who always craved having a big warm cast of family and friends round me, but never really made it, something very emotionally appealing too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Julie says:

    Hello. Did you get round to reading MAN AT THE HELM yet? Nina Stibbe is appearing tomorrow Friday Oct 16th at an event in Islington at the Business Design Centre called Stylist Live and she’s reading an extract from MAN AT THE HELM. I have tickets to go and just trying to choose which authors to go and listen to…. What do you think? Should she go on my list?


  12. Julie, much as I LOVED LOVED LOVED Love, Nina, can’t say am loving Man at the Helm. Needless to say, got it immediately after finishing her funny story of life with Alan Bennett and co, and am about a quarter of the way through M.A.T.H. but finding it very fatuous and clichéd. I pick it up when very sleepy and lamely read a page or two every now and again, thinking ‘be good to finish this’, but my heart’s not in it and it’s nowhere near as witty and sharp as the later book. Having slaughtered the book, would most definitely put Nina Stibbe on the list to go and meet her live as am convinced she will be a hoot. Look forward to a full report on the event x


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