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December 12, 2013 , 12 : 17 pm GST
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This irreverent, batty and endlessly funny collection of letters was written during the Eighties by a 20-year-old school dropout from Leicestershire called Nina who moved to London to try her hand at nannying.
This irreverent, batty and endlessly funny collection of letters was written during the Eighties by a 20-year-old school dropout from Leicestershire called Nina who moved to London to try her hand at nannying. She landed a plum job in the home of Mary Kay Wilmers (founder of the London Review Of Books) looking after her two sons Sam and Will (by her former husband, film director Stephen Frears).
Celebrated playwright Alan Bennett was more or less part of the family. Nina also found herself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Russell Harty, Claire Tomalin and Rik Mayall. The great delight of Love, Nina is that Nina did not have any clear idea who half of these people were and, once enlightened, she was not particularly impressed.
What she cared most about was banter, jokes, pranks and eccentric lines of conversation, which she found in abundance at 55 Gloucester Crescent. Nina has a knack for winkling out humour from exchanges that might at first seem banal. Chunks of her letters, written to her sister back home, are written as dialogue which gives the banter a sense of punchiness and immediacy. Everyone is often affectionately irritated by each other, as when Nina resents Bennett turning up to dinner with a nicer salad than the one she had made. She says: "Everyone looks up to AB these days since all his success on telly so they're not going to ignore his salad."
And there are countless bones of contention, such as whether "opera singer" Jonathan Miller (in fact a celebrated opera/theatre director) is secretly furious with Mary Kay for losing his saw.
Nina starts studying A level English and when she shares her views with her literary employer ("I love books, especially the classics such as Dickens and Herriot"), Mary Kay is quick to rib but, ultimately, is supportive and encouraging.
Nina recently reflected upon her experiences as a nanny in a newspaper article, acknowledging how Mary Kay and her entourage broadened her horizons and changed her life.
As a result Love, Nina is suffused with as much warmth as it is wit; the kind of book that you find yourself reading out to whoever is within earshot. It deserves to be the left-field breakout hit of the year.
Charlotte Heathcote/Daily Express
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