I love epistolary memoirs. The first one I read was Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. The minutiae of daily life, the interpersonal exchanges, the casual musings of someone who has a definite worldview – and a sense of humour – this is literary gold. It hardly feels literary, however; it’s just a peek into someone’s life, someone you wish you knew. It’s very close to a diary, although a letter has an audience whereas a diary isn’t supposed to.
Love, Nina is a wonderful example of an epistolary memoir. In the early 80s, Nina Stibbe became nanny to a literary household, with two boys aged around 10 and 11, and a dryly witty writer mother. Various friends, including Alan Bennett, add their two cents to dinnertime conversation, which Nina reports verbatim in her letters to her sister in Leicester.
By page 17 I knew this was going to be one of my favourite books ever, so rushed to 1-click it on Amazon and had it delivered to all my devices, although I also want a hard copy to lend to friends. This book is, like The Rosie Project, one of my big laugh-out-loud favourite books this year. The Rosie Effect, which I am reading on my Kindle app on my phone while I exercise on the treadmill at the gym (it’s ok, everyone else is wearing earphones so they can’t hear me laughing) is another one but as it’s a sequel of The Rosie Project perhaps doesn’t count.
It helps if you can hear an English accent while you read. London/Estuary accent for most of them, and Northern for Nina (I can’t conjure up a Midlands accent, even in my head, so figure Northern is the next best). And sometimes cockney, especially this part:
“The best bit was when we went into an antique shop and Misty picked up a pickle fork with a pretty green jewel on the end.
“How much is this pickle fork?” she asked the antique man.
The man said it wasn’t a pickle fork but a runcible spoon.
Misty: What’s a runcible spoon?
Man: One of them in your hand.
Misty: But what’s it for?
Man: Pickles and such.”
When I read this exchange I heard the voice of Mike, my cockney co-worker at a jewellery store in London. It’s exactly the kind of thing he would say, too, which I suppose is why he was in the basement doing all the shipping/receiving instead of being on the floor selling silver shooter cups to punters like the rest of us.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s wonderful, I hope you read it.