I really enjoyed all my reads this month, so here goes..
"Love, Nina" by Nina Stibbe was just delightful. Nina goes to London from Leicester in 1982, to work as a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers and her two sons. The book takes the form of letters she sends to her sister who is back home and training to be a nurse. Mary-Kay is the ex-wife of director Stephen Frears and the household is a magnet for the bohemian literati such as Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. Nina is blithely unaware of the fame of the frequent visitors, her accounts of Alan Bennett fixing the washer, for example, are hilarious. This is a very sweet book, recounting several years in the 1980s as Nina goes to Polytechnic but remains living amongst an eccentric, but warm and funny family. Highly recommended, it's a happy read.
Talking of happy reads, "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin was a bit different. Rubin contemplates what it means to be happy and how to go about achieving it. Her mantra is " the days are long but the years are short" and this recounts the year she gave herself to maximise her happiness levels. Some parts were a tad too 'new-agey' for me, but some of the issues tackled were very interesting and I've tried to follow a few tips. I'll let you know if I become significantly happier!
I was really sad to hear of Sue Townsend's death recently, her Adrian Mole books never lost their ability to make me laugh out loud. I bought 'The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman ( aged 55 3/4) as I wasn't middle-aged when it was first published....but I am now! This is a series of short articles written for a magazine and in true Townsend style, are warm and funny. She reminds me in a way of an English Nora Ephron, clever, funny women who write pithily about ageing and its absurdities. She will be much missed.
I borrowed 'Into The Trees' by Robert Williams from the library as he was appearing there reading from this novel and I wanted to have some idea of what it was about before I went. From the blurb it sounds as if it is going to be a supernatural tale, the parents of a baby girl can only stop her incessant crying when they enter a forest near their home. However, the story than veers off into something else completely. I liked the characterisation and the setting, based on the beautiful countryside past Clitheroe. The book was certainly a page-turner and I thought the recounting of events from three different characters was a good device. I wouldn't have chosen to read this book myself as the blurb definitely makes it sound a bit Stephen
King-y ( not my cup of tea at all) so I'm glad I did and Williams was a very interesting person to listen to.
Finally, 'Frances & Bernard' by Carlene Bauer was an intelligent, elegant novel. Set in New York in 1950s and 1960s it takes the form of letters, primarily between Frances and Bernard, writers whose characters are loosely based on Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell. Their musings on religion, literature and love are beautifully written and the period atmosphere is effectively evoked. It is deeply moving at times, with one of the characters grappling with a serious mental health issue, and the ending is not what I hoped for, but is realistic.