‘Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life’ by Nina Stibbe

Love, Ninastarstar‘Love, Nina’ is comprised completely of letters written to her sister by Nina Stibbe who was a nanny to Mary-Kay Wilmers, a prominent literary figure in London during the 80’s. Famous friends would randomly drop by or regularly join for dinner, as did Alan Bennett. All of the name dropping may not have had the desired effect on me because I didn’t know too many of the people besides Bennett (despite the helpful Who’s Who list at the beginning of the book).  The letters and descriptions of Nina’s life as a nanny are witty and depict a very interesting and unusual family, but I expected to like this book more than I actually did.  Though quite amusing, it was not as funny as I’d hoped because it often felt like “insider’s humour” and much of it felt lost on me.

What is charming in the book, is that Nina is from rural Leicestershire and was also unaware of who all of these people were when she started as a young 20 year old in this well connected London household. “Being a nanny is great. Not like  a job really, just like living in someone else’s life.” Nina tends to the slovenly and has to learn how to cook, but gets on great with the children, Sam and Will. I did enjoy the dialogue around the dinner table which made me feel deliciously like a fly on the wall.

Here is an example. Nina has recently seen a bowl of dried lemons at Bennett’s house that she thinks looks like an old painting and she’s trying some decorating of her own in Mary-Kay’s house.

MK: Do we want all these old lemons?
Me: I’m drying them.
MK: What for?
Me: They just look nice.
MK: Do they?
Me: Well, once they’re dry, they will.
MK: If you say so.

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