Man at the Helm
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 divorcee 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 divorcee 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
This densely populated coming-of-age story (for both mother and children) has retained and even expanded on Stibbe's signature antic charm ... The appeal of Stibbe's novel lies less in plotting than in the way she shades a sequence of comic vignettes with seriously sad undertones. It's not too much of a stretch to conclude that Man at the Helm, with its jauntily matter-of-fact social satire, wouldn't be out of place on the same shelf as Cold Comfort Farm and I Capture the Castle * New York Times * Fans of Love, Nina will not be disappointed. Amusing, the writing is never less than accomplished * Daily Mail * Lizzie's voice is convincingly childlike but also confidently witty . . . What is most moving here - and what makes the book most similar to Love, Nina - is its celebration of the happiness possible within the family. Stibbe's feat is to remain unsentimentally barbed while subtly and triumphantly demonstrating the value of the kind of understated love found within the strangest and least obviously functional families * Telegraph * This book is very, very funny. Stibbe has a fine eye for absurdity, and her writing has an unforced charm. [And] there is real darkness here, which makes the humour shimmer all the more * Independent on Sunday * Fantastic. Comical, moving and brilliantly evocative of British childhood * Glamour * Within a few pages I was completely caught up in the lives of Lizzie and her family . . . I couldn't have loved it more -- Lisa Jewell A beguilingly comic blend of naivety and precociousness * Sunday Times * [A] joyous read, full of wit and charm . . . I am already longing for Nina Stibbe's next book * Express * All hail a book that's funny! -- Barbara Trapido Read it and be charmed. Just the right mixture of childhood innocence and incredulity for the necessary deadpan delivery of Stibbe's particular brand of comedy * Independent * A wicked anatomising of a dysfunctional family . . . Buoyantly comic: farcical yet tender, rude with a forgiving sweetness * Spectator * I can't remember a book that made me laugh more . . . Man at the Helm is a winner - it even trumps Love, Nina * Observer *
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