This is a novel written by Nina Stibbe. I’ll leave the blurb down below so you get an idea of the plot.
Soon after her parents’ separation, nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel moves with her siblings and newly single mother to a tiny village in the English countryside, where the new neighbors are horrified by their unorthodox ways and fatherless household. Lizzie’s theatrical mother only invites more gossip by spending her days drinking whiskey, popping pills, and writing plays. The one way to fit in, the children decide, will be to find themselves a new man at the helm.
I got this book for Christmas from my godmother and honestly, I was really excited to read it. It seemed like my kind of novel – quirky and funny. I had heard of Nina Stibbe before. She is known for her autobiography, Love, Nina, which is supposed to be an incredible read, giving insight into 1980s literary London.
Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with Man at the Helm. Much as I tried to enjoy it, I just couldn’t connect to any of the characters and I found the style of narration a little bit bland, harsh as that sounds.
The story is written entirely from the perspective of nine-year-old Lizzie. Lizzie’s voice is very strong throughout the book and it is always obvious that we are reading the thoughts of a child. I usually enjoy this style and adored it in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. For some reason, I just couldn’t warm to it in this book. In keeping with the tone, the descriptions of characters and situations were a bit flat and lacking in detail. I understand what Stibbe was trying to do, but it just didn’t work, for me. I found it really hard to sympathise with the characters because they all seemed extremely one-dimensional.
Despite this, there were some sweet and quite poignant moments in the novel, such as when Lizzie and her sister went to London zoo and when they tried to free a cow trapped in a fence. Unfortunately, these lovely sections did not do enough to save what was otherwise quite a dull book.
I hate to be so negative! The book gets four out of five stars on Amazon, so definitely some people loved it. Maybe I just wasn’t in a good place to be engaged by a book when I was reading it.
The next book I am going to be reading is Lord of the Flies. Hopefully I have better luck with that!
Talk to you soon!