When I was really little, I developed a simmering, and rather unfortunate, crush on Jonathan Miller. This is odd in and of itself, even more so for someone as young as I was. (If you wish to know how odd, google him.) Apparently I had seen him on some interview program and found him slightly irresistible. This was not, I hasten to say, any type of romantic crush for I had not reached that stage of things. No, it was, I’m quite certain, a crush on wit, that rare talent bestowed on fewer people than one might think and one that can still make me slightly weak in the knees. I would still rather have lunch with Stephen Fry than Brad Pitt.
For those of us who find this quality irresistible, our objects of attraction are sadly few and far between these days. Those in the media capable of delivering the perfectly worded paragraph, or even quip, are … well… few. The golden-edged bon mot seems to have been replaced by a ham-fisted humour awash in juvenile sensibility and designed to appeal to the greatest majority of twelve year old boys. Not being a twelve year old boy myself, it leaves me cold, and worse, bored.
The world of books is hardly immune to this ever-increasing waste of language. What passes for the modern day beach book takes six chapters to say what Edith Wharton managed between two perfectly crafted sentences. So it was that I found myself surprised and utterly delighted last week when I picked up a book that had been working its way to the top of my ever-growing stack for quite a while. “Love, Nina” is a collection of letters written by a London nanny to her sister in Leicestershire during the early 80’s when she served as the nanny to the two precocious, and charmingly witty, sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, the long-time editor of The London Review of Books. The family lives on a street in London peppered with literary types who make frequent appearances on these pages, their comments and observances sprinkled with appropriate amounts of deliciously wicked wit. Alan Bennett drops by for dinner most nights. (And yes, sadly, I have a long-standing crush on him as well.) And Jonathan Miller lives a few houses down.
To be allowed into the private conversations of this cadre of wits brought to life by Nina Stibbe is a sheer joy. I have laughed out loud frequently. ( Sidenote: Always, every time I laugh, Edward wags his tail. This is particularly funny when it’s late at night and he’s sound asleep. Sleep-wagging. He did a lot of that while I was reading this book. )
Check out “Love, Nina”.
And as for the utterly charming Alan Bennett,
a new movie is being filmed of his play, “The Lady in the Van”.
Starring Dame Maggie Smith, it’s certain to be a winner.
Be sure and read the book first!
Find it HERE.
and here’s the trailer for the upcoming film: