Man at the Helm, the debut novel from Nina Stibbe – the much-loved author of Love, Nina – is a wildly comic, brilliantly sharp-eyed novel about the horrors of being an attractive divorcée in an English village in the 1970s, and a family's fall from grace . . .
My sister and I and our little brother were born (in that order) into a very good situation and apart from the odd new thing life was humdrum and comfortable until an evening in 1970 when my mother listened in to my father's phone call and ended up blowing her nose on a tea towel – a thing she'd only have done in an absolute emergency.
Not long after her parents' separation, heralded by an awkward scene involving a wet Daily Telegraph and a pan of cold eggs, nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel, her sister and little brother and their now divorcée mother are packed off to a small, slightly hostile village in the English countryside. Their mother is all alone, only thirty-one years of age, with three young children and a Labrador. It is no wonder, when you put it like that, that she becomes a menace and a drunk. And a playwright.
Worried about the bad playwriting – though more about becoming wards of court and being sent to the infamous Crescent Home for Children – Lizzie and her sister decide to contact, by letter, suitable men in the area. In order to stave off the local social worker they urgently need to find a new Man at the Helm.