Paradise Lodge follows on from Man at the Helm where we were first introduced to Lizzie Vogel and her somewhat eccentric family. Lizzie is now fourteen, and unlike other girls her age we find her working part-time in an ‘old people’s home’. Initially Lizzie only wanted to work outside of school hours so she could treat herself to some of the finer things in life her family could not afford – coffee and shampoo. Paradise Lodge is the perfect setting for an unfolding farce of massive proportions. Mistakes are made along the way as this young teenager is thrown headfirst in to taking on more and more responsibility.
Nina can make you laugh and cry at the same time with her perfectly timed humour and wit. Her comedy timing in print is nothing short of exceptional in this book, as is the innocent but worldly wise voice of Lizzie as the main protagonist. Lizzie’s developing relationships with the residents of Paradise Lodge are touching and poignant, showing her vulnerability in a world she had to grow up in very fast, and a compassion and understanding beyond her years.
The story is so cleverly crafted when things start to go downhill at Paradise Lodge, Nina has her audience experience the highs and the lows with all the colourful personalities she manages to cram in to a relatively short space of time. The queen of ‘show don’t tell’ the characters leap off the page at you as they all are people we recognise, have even possibly experienced in our own lives.
There is a darkness to this comedy, a brutal honesty often exhibited by people working in the caring profession, often behind closed doors, but laid bare for us to witness ‘first hand’.
Hilary returned and marched up to the bed, took Miss Granger by the chin, calmly twisted the denture back in and pulled the sheet over her face.
‘Is she dead?’ I asked.
‘No, I just can’t stand to look at her, ‘ said Nurse Hilary, and she laughed and pulled a face at me. ‘Only joking – yes, she’s gone to heaven, Lizzie.’
There is such depth in the exchanges between Lizzie, her siblings and their mother, there is a sadness surrounding them, as children become the parent. Following an unexpected and difficult divorce from their father, Lizzie’s mother found coping in the ‘real’ world an immense struggle. She started to abuse prescription medication, mixed with an over indulgence of Whiskey, and spent a lot of time hiding away from the world. The girls had to step up and take over every aspect of running the household, which they did by trial and error, mostly error, but they are survivors.
Lizzie’s mother has such a huge personality it is difficult for the reader to be angry at her lack of emotional support, and we feel we want nothing but the best for her future. She is an extraordinary woman, and the children know, and think, this which forms an unbreakable bond, so cleverly penned by Nina as a reader you feel a sense of pride in the way they conduct themselves.
Paradise Lodge is touching, funny, sensitive, brutally honest but above all a jolly good read you won’t be able to put down. You don’t need to have read Man at the Helm to enjoy it, but I highly recommend you do.
About Nina Stibbe
Nina Stibbe, born in 1962, studied Humanities at Thames Polytechnic. After a spell in London as a nanny her working life started in marketing, then she moved on to become a rep for the Oxford University Press, and finally she became a commissioning editor for Routledge. Luckily for us she now writes highly entertaining novels, in a quaint inimitable style that grabs your attention from the very first page.
If you enjoy this you might also like: Tara Westover (Educated: The international bestselling memoir), Sally Rooney (Normal People), and David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day)