Thursday, 8 January 2015

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

Nina Stibbe's first novel is a charmingly humorous story of a dysfunctional family set in 1970s England. When little Lizzie Vogel’s manufacturing tycoon father embarks on an affair with Phil in accounts, her mother throws a plate of food at him and the marriage is over.

A run-down manor in a small town becomes the new home of Lizzie, her big sister, little brother and newly-divorced mother. Mrs Vogel is stunningly beautiful – men fall in love with her when she shakes their hand – but completely disconsolate and unable to cope with running a family, doing laundry or providing meals. Instead she sun-bathes, dabbles in playwriting and takes tranquillisers.

Lizzie and her sister worry that they will be made wards of court so decide what is needed is ‘a man at the helm’. The two draw up a list of potential suitors – many of whom are already married – including the vicar, and even Mr Gummo, their gardener.

Stibbe has created a sort of seventies ‘Love in a Cold Climate’ with its whimsical language and steady supply of laughs. Her narrator, ten-year-old Lizzie, is wonderfully deadpan as she describes the hilarious scenes around her mother, the men in her life and their interactions with snooty villagers. Man at the Helm is a quick read, but intelligent too - perfect summer reading.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Man at the Helm

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