National Book Award Winner
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 divorcée 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-divorcée mother are packed off to a small, slightly hostile village in the English countryside. Their mother is all alone, only 31 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.
Nina Stibbe was born in Leicester. She is the author of the hugely acclaimed, Love, Nina. She now lives in Cornwall with her partner and two children. Man at the Helm is her first novel.
"Man at the Helm, a first novel, joins on my shelf a small but joyous set of much-loved books narrated by girls… If you loved I Capture the Castle, you will love this… In Stibbe’s hands I laughed hard, page after page. Brisk, ruthless, understated, English comedy gold." (Times)
"This joyous read, full of wit and charm, will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. The glorious cast of characters includes a faithful Labrador called Debbie, a charismatic pony called Maxwell and the child-hating daily help Mrs Lunt… I am already longing for Nina Stibbe’s next book." (Cathy Rentzenbrink in the Daily Express)
"The narrator's voice is wonderful and the adults gloriously bizarre… All hail a book that's funny! This book's a winner, isn't it?" (Barbara Trapido, author of Brother of the More Famous Jack)
"I’m sure I haven’t been the only one eagerly awaiting Nina Stibbe’s follow-up. Her debut novel doesn’t disappoint … Read it and be charmed." (Independent)
"An unassuming comic genius" (Independent)
"Charming, warm-hearted and gently but irresistibly funny" (Sunday Times)
"Funny, warm, life-affirming and accutely well-observed . . . A hoot" (Metro)
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Most enjoyable book
Lovely story - Poor narrating choice
If a friend had to choose one book by Nina Stibbe, I would recommend she read "Love, Nina", rather than "Man at the Helm"
I am not sure whether the narrator has a natural "child-like" voice or was staging one for the sake of this book. In either case, this was not the right voice, in that it is clear from the text that the story is not told from the child's perspective but from the adult woman's viewpoint. In the logic of this fiction, a woman is retelling the story of her childhood and the problems her mother faced after her husband left her for another man before remarrying another woman. So the childish voice is misleading. (The reader is a good reader! But not for this book)
It is a lovely story (albeit predictable). Great characters (esp. the mother), wonderful irony, direct effective descriptions: you want to read/listen to the whole thing... Not a boring let-down moment.
I enjoy Stibbe's writing very much and am a super fan of her memoir "Love, Nina" which I would recommend in the audio version (more than the print edition) to everyone! That's a glorious piece of genius. This one, A Man at the Helm, is good.
- Mitzi Hol