Nominated last year for the Waterstones Book of the Year, ‘Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life’ has recently become a popular bestseller through word-of-mouth. The book contains letters written by Nina Stibbe to her sister Victoria when she started working as a nanny in London at the age of twenty in 1982 and later as a student at Thames Polytechnic. She worked for Mary-Kay Wilmers, who has been the editor of the London Review of Books since 1992, and looked after her two sons, Sam aged ten, and Will aged nine.
I don’t think I have read a non-fiction collection of letters before and I have certainly never reviewed one on my blog so far. In an era where regular correspondence via snail mail is becoming increasingly rare, the concept is appealingly nostalgic. This particular collection is unedited aside from a few name changes and some “fine tuning” of grammar. It is entirely one-sided with Vic’s responses to Nina’s letters (if there were any) not included.
There is little in the way of action or structure in the letters themselves but snapshots of characters and witty observations are abundant. They are filled with entertaining anecdotes, many of them featuring Mary-Kay Wilmers’s famous friends and neighbours including Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin and several others. In her letters, Stibbe seems almost unaware of the extent of their fame and the focus is very much on the everyday domestic incidents which occurred in the slightly eccentric household. The humour is very dry and it is the snippets of dialogue which really bring the letters to life, particularly the gems of wisdom from both Sam and Tom.
‘Love, Nina’ is quite a quick read which can easily be devoured in one sitting. Although I didn’t really find it as laugh-out-loud funny as other reviews have suggested, ‘Love, Nina’ is a really lovely book which is warm and engagingly written. Highly recommended.