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.
©2014 Nina Stibbe (P)2014 Audible Studios
"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)
This was my first audio book and I congratulate the narrator who related the story so well. The unfolding tale is told from the perspective of a young girl, Lizzie, now an adult, of a fairly wealthy family split apart by unfaithfulness. The mother and three children move from the city to a village where they don't seem very well liked. Adapting to their changed circumstances throws up many challenges and with a mother seeming unable to cope, the children decide the only solution is to find a new man for their mother. Their efforts are both funny and entertaining. I look forward to reading more books by this author.
All I can say is if you don't appreciate this beautiful story, I'm sorry for you. The reader is fantastic.
Delightfully funny, surprisingly insightful, and heartbreakingly touching! This is a wonderfully well written book, and the narrator does a marvelous job telling the story through distinct character voices that you remember and recognize throughout the program. Well Done!
Anglophile. Prefer only British fiction and mysteries. Good translations of Italian, too.
I want more.
There were many. The horse on the second floor. The boy pretending to be a dog. The children enacting their mother's play. The men. The girls.
She was a superlative reader. Wonderful. Perfect cast to her voice for the various characters. Just amazingly good.
Lizzie, of course.
If only there were more novels full of wit, wisdom and charm. This is so beyond the norm of the day. Stibbe reminds me a bit of Barbara Pym, as well as Trollope and even Kingsley Amis in his early days. Masterful!
This story attempts to combine the viewpoint of three charming, chipper English village children living with an alcoholic, whoring mother, a depressed divorcee, along with the description of their dire circumstance. We are not amused. It is not possible to believe that children would accept their mother's behavior so matter of factly as described in this story, much less go about trying to remedy the situation with the humor and lightness they exhibit. Comedy and tragedy can co-exist in literature perhaps, but not in this case.
Loved the 11-year old narrator's view of the world through her parent's divorce, mother's alcoholism and temperamental unsuitability for single parenting and family slide from upper class respectability to working class inspiration with a sweet turn of events at the end.
onlinebuyer in the City
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.
"Just as good as expected"
Love Nina has become one of my favorite (and funnniest) books. I loved Nina's first fiction, her voice recognisable from her diaries, but wonderfully telling a quite tragic tale from a child's point of view, beautifully observed with great '70's detail. And very funny. Highly recommended.
'Love Nina' is an extremely hard act to follow but Nina Stibbe does it brilliantly with this lovely story of two little girls dealing with abandonment by their father and having to cope with their batty but beautiful mother. After receiving a hostile reception in their new community the girls hatch a plan based on the older sister's theory that a family needs a man at the helm, no matter how awful he may be, and the results of their plotting are hilarious and surprisingly bawdy in places.
Despite the overall comic theme the story is handled with great sensitivity and I couldn't help falling in love with this dysfunctional little group of people. Some parts really had me guffawing out loud (check out the neighbour with the bath water problem) and the mother's activities are wonderfully and almost shockingly abandoned.
Nina Stibbe is a fantastic writer and I hope her first novel gets all the accolades it deserves. Please hurry up and write another book!
"Humorousness and sadness all rolled into one"
In a Man at the Helm an immature voice is commenting on her family, creating some humour and some sadness. It is this voice, the voice of Lizzie that is the key to both the humour and the sadness of the often quite difficult situations they all find themselves in. It reminded me of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, in this respect as both books have this element; they have a sort of fly on the wall aspect to them from a young person's point of view.
A mixture of the humour and fun, some kindness and the odd touching scene make this book worthwhile to listen to, if not the best thing I've ever read as some scenes get really, so very sad. However the narrator does an excellent job and raised the book into being the very best it could be.
I didn't expect to like this much and couldn't remember why I'd chosen it, but I loved every minute and put my life on hold to finish it. Very light and undemanding but not in any way silly or overly fluffy.
"I loved it!"
I'd read Nina's Letters Home and was delighted to come across this book. As a single mother, it made me laugh and nod equally hard!
"Excellent low key humour......addictive..."
Yes definitely re readable and wouldn't say that easily
The central character Lizzie
Closely followed by mother
All kinds of emotions evoked but very interested in the way it was written....great style
"great in radio serial less good for a solid read"
well - not enough depth - but it wasn't trying to be that sort of book! great for what it was.
"Loved every minute of it"
Was worried that this book wouldn't live up to my expectations but it was wonderful and I didn't want to miss a word of it.
The reader did an amazing job giving every character their own very believable voice.
Love the phrasing that the writer uses. She packs so much into her books and I can't wait for the next one.
Perhaps not to my own friends. The book is slight, sometimes amusing, not always very credible - but it seems to me to lack the warmth and laugh-out-loud moments I relished in "Love Nina".
Yes. She can write with real originality and sense of fun.
No. Nice voice for the young daughter she portrays and good variation for the others.
I am rather sad to say that I do not think so.
It really wasn't too bad. Faint praise, alas.
Her voice was well suited to the characters
a brilliant listern, it really did make me laugh out loud.
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