This is the story of Lizzie Vogel, a 15 year old girl who finds herself working in an old people's home in Leicestershire in the 1970s. The place is in chaos and it's not really a suitable job for a schoolgirl: she'd only gone for the job because she wanted a new phase and it seemed too exhausting to commit to being a full-time girlfriend or a punk. Lizzie has some knowledge of old people (they're not suited to granary bread, and you mustn't compare them to toddlers) but she doesn't know there's a right way to get someone out of the bath, or what to do when someone dies.
When a rival old people's home with better parking and daily chairobics threatens to take all their patients, Paradise Lodge's cast of staff and helpers, from the assertively shy Nurse who only communicates through little grunts to the son of the Chinese takeaway manager who's renowned for his erotic handholding techniques, have to come together to save the home before it's too late.
From the bestselling author of Love, Nina comes a story of being very young, and very old, and the laughter, and the tears, in between.
Man at the Helm, the debut novel from Nina Stibbe - the much-loved author of Love, Nina - is a wildly comic, brilliantly sharp-eyed novel about the horrors of being an attractive divorcée in an English village in the 1970s, and a family's fall from grace . . .
My sister and I and our little brother were born (in that order) into a very good situation and apart from the odd new thing life was humdrum and comfortable until an evening in 1970 when my mother listened in to my father's phone call and ended up blowing her nose on a tea towel - a thing she'd only have done in an absolute emergency.
Not long after her parents' separation, heralded by an awkward scene involving a wet Daily Telegraph and a pan of cold eggs, nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel, her sister and little brother and their now divorcée mother are packed off to a small, slightly hostile village in the English countryside. Their mother is all alone, only thirty-one years of age, with three young children and a Labrador. It is no wonder, when you put it like that, that she becomes a menace and a drunk. And a playwright.
Worried about the bad playwriting - though more about becoming wards of court and being sent to the infamous Crescent Home for Children - Lizzie and her sister decide to contact, by letter, suitable men in the area. In order to stave off the local social worker they urgently need to find a new Man at the Helm.
'All hail a book that's funny!' Barbara Trapido
'[A] joyous read, full of wit and charm . . . I am already longing for Nina Stibbe's next book' Observer
'Nine-year-old Lizzie (our narrator) is the perfect conduit for her creator, just the right mixture of childhood innocence and incredulity for the necessary deadpan delivery of Stibbe's particular brand of comedy. Read it and be charmed' Independent
'A beguilingly comic blend of naivety and precociousness' Sunday Times
Being a nanny is great. Not like a job really, just like living in someone else's life. Today before breakfast Sam had to empty the dishwasher and Will had to feed the cat.
Sam: I hate emptying the dishwasher.
MK: We all do, that's why we take turns.
Will: I hate the cat.
MK: We all do, that's why we take turns.
In the 1980s Nina Stibbe wrote letters home to her sister in Leicester describing her trials and triumphs as a nanny to a London family. There's a cat nobody likes, a visiting dog called Ted Hughes (Ted for short) and suppertime visits from a local playwright. Not to mention the two boys, their favourite football teams, and rude words, a very broad-minded mother and assorted nice chairs.
From the mystery of the unpaid milk bill and the avoidance of nuclear war to mealtime discussions on pie filler, the greats of English literature, swearing in German and sexually transmitted diseases, Love, Nina is a wonderful celebration of bad food, good company and the relative merits of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton.
Nina Stibbe was born in Leicester. She is the author of Love, Nina, which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of the Year Award and won Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2014 National Book Awards, and the massively acclaimed novel Man at the Helm, which was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. She lives in Cornwall with her partner and two children.