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Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

Despite being a lover of all things comedy, I haven’t read a comedic book in quite a while. This was a great choice to get started again.

manat the helm

When their parents split up, nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel, her sister and brother move with their mother to a slightly hostile village in the English countryside. Their mother immediately takes to drinking and compulsive playwriting – neither of which impresses villagers already deeply suspicious of an attractive divorcee. Desperate to fit in, Lizzie and her sister hatch a plan: secretly invite any suitable (and even unsuitable) men to meet (and hopefully marry) their mother…

This is definitely a novel of extremes, which is of course for comedic value. The girls’ mother is not only a screw-up, she’s a colossal screw-up and seems to fail at everything. Their father is the Ultimate Villain in the picture, and the village all but witch-hunts the family. But these extremes are told in the voice and perspective of a nine-year-old, and so it makes sense that a child would remember things in this way.

I often find myself disbelieving readers when they say ‘I laughed out loud’ at a book, because it’s rare that I find something so hilarious in a book that it brings that out of me. However, this book really did make me chuckle quite audibly, which is interesting on a packed overseas flight. The book was the perfect remedy for that weary fatigue caused by long-distance travel.

The only thing I felt was lacking was any real loyalty or feelings towards any of the characters, except perhaps a small bit of contempt for the kids’ mother for being so useless, but even then that was only a half-hearted emotion roused on my part. What I will say, though, is that perhaps this wasn’t really needed. The novel serves it purpose in being very entertaining and a very easy read.

I think overall, what the narrative lacked in winning over any loyalty for any of the characters, it made up for in humour. The comedy felt effortless, it didn’t feel forced and Stibbe didn’t have to conform to any clich├ęs. She is definitely a very funny writer and the book is well worth a read.


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