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Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina

Despatches from Family Life

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
In 1982, at the age of twenty, Nina Stibbe left her rural Leicestershire home to become a live-in nanny in London. She was hired by Mary-Kay Wilmers, who was the editor of The London Review of Books and lived in Camden Town, north London, with her two sons, Sam and Will.

Their house was in Gloucester Crescent, which was a very literary and artistic area; the neighbours included Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn. Nina had never encountered an environment of this kind and had never heard of any of her new neighbours—she initially had the impression that Jonathan Miller was an opera singer and Alan Bennett had been in Coronation Street.

Nina's sister Victoria ("Vic") remained in Leicestershire and didn't have a telephone, but the girls had a close relationship and Nina wrote to Vic frequently to describe her new life. These letters constitute the main text of the book. Since we don't see any of Vic's replies the result is that the book reads like a diary as much as a series of letters.

Nina, who herself became a novelist later, is an astute observer who likes the family she lives with but sees them with a dispassionate eye, which she is quite prepared to turn on herself as well. She makes plentiful use of short stretches of dialogue and this enhances the general liveliness of the writing as well as conveying a sense of character in the ways people speak. Here, for example, is a short stretch of dialogue with Mary-Kay after Nina had laundered some pillows inappropriately.

MK: What are these?
Me: Pillows
MK; Yes, but why have I got them? Where are my usual ones?
Me: Sam's probably got your usual ones.
MK: So what are these?
Me: I think they might be the ones I laundered.
MK: Laundered?
Me: Took to the laundrette.
MK: Are they washable?
Me: Not as such, but it was kill or cure.
MK: It was kill.
Mary-Kay agreed to the book's publication "in spite of misgivings". It was made into a series for television. I didn't see that but I enjoyed reading the book.


%T Love, Nina
%S Despatches from Family Life
%A Stibbe, Nina
%I Penguin
%C London
%P x+321pp
%K autobiograhy, memoir
%O kindle edition. downloaded from Amazon 2020

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