Monday, January 27, 2014

Advice on use, and more

Friday I warned you that in the days ahead I would likely be quoting from Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe's wonderfully funny collection of letters she sent her sister from her London posting as a nanny to the children of London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers . . . and now we are days ahead! So herewith are a few of the many, many passages that made me and rocketlass laugh out loud.

After a number of grumbled complaints from the children (and regular dinner guest Alan Bennett) about the turkey burgers Nina has been making ("Because MK keeps buying turkey mince and what the fuck else can I do with it?"), she mentions the problem to MK:
Me: Can you stop getting the turkey mince?

MK: What's wrong with it?

Me: I can't make anything nice with it.

MK: It's versatile--simply use it in place of beef.

Me: You've memorised the pack.

MK: Yes, giving advice on use.
To be wholly fair to MK, we ought to note that the turkey mince wasn't the sole problem with Nina's cooking as she describes it: she was at that unsatisfying stage of learning, familiar to all cooks, where, as she writes to her sister, a recipe with more than six ingredients is too complicated.

Then there's this exchange, in which Alan Bennett (AB) is allowed not one but two perfect punchlines:
Someone drew something on our wall with a penknife or stick. MK thought it was a heart. I went and looked and saw a penis (scratched into the brick).

Me: I think it's meant to be a man's penis.

MK: I thought it might be a heart.

Me: How?

MK: An upside-down one.

AB: Like mine.

(Will [the older boy] goes out to look.)

Me: People don't usually draw hearts on walls.

MK: I might.

Sam [the younger boy]: I'd never draw a heart or . . . the other thing.

Will: (returns) It's definitely a dick.

MK: It looks more like a heart.

AB: You'd think they'd label it.

(AB phones later to say he saw it on the way out. It's a penis.)
The following exchange comes a few months after Nina accidentally scraped the family car up a bit, then attempted to convince the boys not to tell MK. Which they ultimately couldn't resist doing. The letter opens, "Good news. Mary-Kay has pranged the car at long last--a relief after all mine (prangs)." Which leads to a dialogue:
Sam: It's mum's first time crashing.

Me: Yeah, but it's worse than any of mine--in terms of damage done.

MK: Hmm.

Me: Mine never required any action to be taken.

MK: Only the untangling of deception and denial.

Me: You dented the number plate--irreparably.

MK: True, but my credibility remains intact.

Told Misty that MK is unusual.

Me: She's just very unusual.

Misty: Is she a bit mad?

Me: God, no, she's 100 per cent sane.

Misty: That's unusual.

Me: That's what I mean.
Part of the fun of the book is that Nina is correct: Mary-Kay Wilmers comes across as remarkably sane, grounded, calm, sharp . . . and strange. Through dialogues like these we get enough of a sense of her slightly off-kilter character that when, later, she mentions that she likes it when people climb trees (prompted by Sam expressing his disapproval), it seems totally reasonable for Nina to suggest that the it makes sense because "it's one less person on the ground."

This is a great book, folks. Hie thee to your local bookstore and pre-order it--but do so knowing full well that you're going to laugh on the subway and read bit after bit aloud to your friends. Trust me: the risk of ostracization is worth it!

1 comment:

  1. I really, really want to thank you for this post. It tipped me over the edge into buying the book (I'd read positive reviews, but...), and hence into the absolute pleasure that I'm having reading it. I'm past the halfway mark and, like you in the previous post, find myself rationing it, to try and keep the fun going as long as possible.

    And I find Nina seeping into my own life. See this blog post: