Wednesday 1 November 2023

Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary by Nina Stibbe #WentToLondonTookTheDog @ninastibbe @picadorbooks @CamillaElworthy #BookReview


Twenty years after leaving London, Nina Stibbe is back in town with her dog, Peggy. Together they take up lodging in the house of writer Deborah (Debby) Moggach in Camden for 'a year-long sabbatical'. It’s a break from married life back in Cornwall, or even perhaps a fresh start altogether.

Debby does not have many demands – only to water the garden, watch for toads, and defrost the odd pie – so Nina is free to explore the city she once called home. Between scrutinising her son’s online dating developments, navigating the politics of the local pool, and taking detergent advice at the laundrette, this diary of a sixty-year-old runaway reunites us with the inimitable voice of Love, Nina, as the writer becomes, as she puts it, 'a proper adult' at last.

Went to London, Took the Dog: A Diary by Nina Stibbe is published in hardback by Picador on 2 November 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

One of the few advantages of being old, and having been around the book reviewing / publishing world for so many years is the chance to get to meet authors that you love. I clearly remember the first time that I met Nina Stibbe in real life, I was a little in awe of her, and especially chuffed that she actually knew who I was! 

I adored Love, Nina which was published by Penguin ten years ago and it has been an utter joy to return to Nina's diaries all these years later. In Love, Nina she had just moved to London, from Leicester, and her antics are detailed in letters to her family. In Went to London, Took the Dog, Nina has returned to London after twenty years away and her observations this time are just as wonderful, warm and friendly. 

With two grown up children, both in London, and sharing a house with author Deborah Moggach (known throughout the book as Debby), Nina keeps a diary of her year in London. It's not just her day to day activities, she also includes snippets from various social media platforms, newspapers and strange things that she spots during her day. The beauty of this is that, for most of us, some of the things mentioned would be quite ordinary and mundane, but told by Nina, they often become hilarious and more than a little odd. She has that gift for observational humour, it never feels contrived, it is clear that this is just Nina. 

Not only is this a fabulous peek into the life of a busy author, with many literary events attended, and lots of famous names mentioned, this is also a serious and honest look at life for a middle-aged woman and her friends of the same age bracket. Nina deals with being a mother to grown ups, and what a fine pair of children she has raised, they are both inquisitive, funny and appear to adore their mother. We have leaking bladders, prolapses, many thoughts about HRT, and of course, the joys of sharing a home with another woman of the same age. The regular fish pie suppers in front of the television, the watering of plants and the warm friendship that blooms between two women who were strangers before they were house mates.  There's also the spectre of Nina's failed marriage, the infrequent mentions of her ex do suggest that this is an event that Nina will deal with in her own unique way, but I did sense a tinge of sadness there too. 

Overall, this feels just like sitting down with Nina and listening to her tell you about her day. It is laugh out loud funny in parts, it is often poignant and a little bit heart breaking, but it is always wonderful. I didn't want it to end and now I really miss Nina. 

Nina Stibbe is the author of six books. 

Love, Nina won Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award at the 2014 National Book Awards, and was shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year. The book was adapted by Nick Hornby for BBC Television. 

She is the author of four novels, all of which have been shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. 

Her third novel Reasons to be Cheerful (2019) is the only novel to date to have won both the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and the Comedy Women in Print Award for comic fiction. 

Her latest novel, One Day I Shall Astonish The World, was published in April 2022.

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