Reviews for Love, Nina : A Nanny Writes Home
Booklist Reviews 2014 April #1
*Starred Review* With a who's who at the beginning that ranges from film director Stephen Frears to Maxwell, the author's "ex-pony," you might guess this is not your typical memoir. Not only that, but it comprises the tuneful, descriptive letters Nina wrote in the 1980s, while she tried her hand at nannying in London, to her sister, Vic, who stayed basically at home, near Leicestershire, England. The nannied children were young Sam and Will Frears--their arty, daffy children's conversations fill the pages--living with their sharp, blunt mother, Mary-Kay Wilmers, deputy editor of the London Review of Books. Nina herself, then just 20 and new to the task of being a nanny, was a lover of London and quite the observer, documenting for her sister back home the who, the when, and her full-blown, clever, open-eyed take on the what of life at the Wilmers-Frears. Stibbe notes that nannying is "not like a job really, just like living in someone else's life," but what a funny, artist-filled life she lived, and how well she watched and participated. This is an offbeat paean to families, real and cobbled-together, to sisters and siblings, and to communicating with love. It's also a rare and wholly delectable epistolary slice of life. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2014 May
Charming letters home from a nanny
Nina Stibbe was 20 years old in 1982 when she moved to London to become the live-in nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books, and her sons Sam and Will (whose father is film director Stephen Frears). There was no convenient phone, so Nina began sending quirky, funny letters home to her sister to report on her job.
Now, more than 30 years later, Stibbe has published these letters, mostly unchanged. The result is a collection of entertaining, if not downright hilarious, vignettes of daily life and the comings and goings of a fascinating community. Nina gets to know playwright Alan Bennett, stage director Jonathan Miller and well-known biographer Claire Tomalin, among others.
Stibbe describes her home (“Most of the plates we use for food, and mugs, are antique. Some chipped. Some nice, some spooky”) and her bright, irrepressible charges (“Will is worried about nuclear war. . . . Sam is envious of all the attention Will’s getting over the nuclear war anxiety. He says he’s got an anxiety too, he can’t say what it is, only that it’s a lot worse than Will’s.”). She also chronicles in a matter-of-fact way Sam’s trips to the hospital resulting from serious health issues.
While Nina is a keen observer, we also trace her own coming-of-age journey. Nina finds love not far away and is also encouraged by her new family and friends to set her sights high and pursue an education. When asked, “So have you got all the books on the syllabus?” Nina ruefully admits to her sister: “I didn’t even know what a syllabus was.”
Life as a nanny in this family is never dull. And neither is Stibbe’s heartfelt and funny memoir, which reminds us that while days with children may seem ordinary, helping them grow is one of the most extraordinary things we can do.
This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
This epistolary memoir is a compilation of letters that 20-year-old Nina Stibbe wrote home to her sister while working as a nanny for the two sons of Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books. The letters contain Nina's misadventures as a nanny rubbing elbows with the northwest London literary set (the playwright Alan Bennett is a frequent dinner guest) over mediocre attempts at bolognese. Nina is clumsy and self-deprecating but generously shares tidbits of conversation between the two boys, Sam and Will Frears. VERDICT This eccentric collection of letters will appeal to fans of British quirk; the dialogue is so snappy it's almost incredible. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.