Love, Nina is a delight.
I hadn’t heard of it til a couple of weeks ago when whilst having curry with my friend Mark – quite possibly more of a reader than even I am – the talk turned as it often does, to books. ‘You absolutely must,’ he told me firmly, ‘read Love, Nina.’ So I did.
It was funny actually, because I got home that night and downloaded it to my Kindle without even bothering to read the blurb. When I logged onto Goodreads the next day, I saw another friend of mine had left a five star review. Well, 2 recommendations in a 24 hour period? This was a book that had to be read.
It’s basically a collection of letters from a 20 year old nanny to her sister, giving the reader a fly on the wall experience of 1980’s London. And that’s about it. There’s no grand story, no real drama, no real story even; if you’re looking for that then look elsewhere. Love, Nina has none of that. It’s set in a world before mobile phones and the internet and reality TV, and it shows how letter writing really is a lost art. People don’t keep emails and text messages in the same way they kept letters. That makes me sad. It makes me sad because little snippets of conversation like this, will be lost forever:
Me: I hate November.
Me: Dark, cold and a whole winter to get through.
MK: January seems worse.
Will: I hate February.
Sam: Oi! I was born in February.
MK: February was very nice in 1972.
Will: Well, for one day.
Sam: The 2nd? (His birthday.)
Will: No, the 1st.
Nina has a fabulous narrative voice, made even better by the fact she wasn’t even really trying that hard – these really are just letters to her sister, and she really brings the little corner of the world she inhabits to life. The boys, Sam & Will are so real you feel like you could reach out and touch them, the picture Nina paints of the people around her – herself and her employer Mary-Kay (editor of the London Review of Books) most notably – are honest and real. These people are flawed and they are fabulous. The little snippets of conversation Nina drops in to illustrate her point are spot on every time and Alan Bennett, who I only recently discovered, keeps dropping in for tea. It should be utterly mundane, I tell you, nothing happens (one of the most exciting moments is AB resuscitating some roses with a rolling pin) but instead it somehow manages to be utterly charming and thoroughly fascinating. The letters are all reasonably short and every time I picked it up I’d be all ‘I’ll just read one more…..’ and then keep going for another half an hour. It made me laugh out loud. It made me get up off the sofa and go in search of Ian, ‘hey, listen, listen to this.’
I only have it on my Kindle. I want, no, I need a copy. Everyone needs a copy. This book shall be gifted a LOT this year.
Here, look, see for yourself:
Me: I don’t like the rosebud toilet paper. MK: I know, I know. Me: It’s worrying. MK: I know. I didn’t think it through.
AB: X has got crabs apparently.
MK: Who has?
MK: Oh dear.
AB: He’s been fucking the cleaner.
Neither of them seemed bothered – or surprised. AB just carried on eating rice pudding, and as soon as it was polite MK ground the coffee beans (noisy).
Had smoked salmon with bread and butter (and lemon and pepper) at supper followed by my veg soup. I’d done a fruit pie for pudding (blackberry and apple) using a tin of Morton’s pie-filler. I admitted it was out of a tin but didn’t say it was blackberry and apple. AB likes real blackberries but they make him nostalgic about blackberrying in the lanes. So, to avoid a whole lot of disappointment (and his blackberrying anecdotes), I said the pie was apple and raspberry.
AB said it wasn’t bad for a tinned pie-filler, but said it tasted more like blackberry. Which I thought was quite impressive (AB for detecting blackberry and the pie-filler for tasting of blackberry).