Man at the Helm
A NoveleBook - 2015
A New York Times Notable Book of 2015
From the writer of the hugely acclaimed Love, Nina comes a sharply funny debut novel about a gloriously eccentric family.
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.
The first novel from a remarkably gifted writer with a voice all her own, MAN AT THE HELM is a hilarious and occasionally heart-breaking portrait of childhood in an unconventional family.
Baker & Taylor
"Born into a posh family, ten-year old Lizzie Vogel has lived a charmed life thus far, with a big sister who knows everything, a cute baby brother, and a full-time housekeeper who bakes jam tarts. But when, in 1970, Lizzie's father abandons her mother and packs his ex-family off to the tiny village of Flatstone, life for the Vogels veers catastrophically off-course. The new neighbors disapprove of divorcees and fatherless children, and Lizzie's theatrical mother provides constant grist for the gossip mill, letting the laundry pile up like Mount Sinai and spending her days drinking whiskey, popping pills and writing plays about how sad she is. Before long the family is shunned by village society. Deciding that only a "man at the helm" will restore order to their household, Lizzie and her sister take it upon themselves to secure a new husband for their mother. As the two girls make their way down a list of candidates that includes a charming con-artist, an idiotic vicar, and several married men, Lizzie confronts the downright craziness of grown-up love and learns that sometimes a family needs to veer catastrophically off-course in order to find true happiness"--
From Library Staff
Kids attempt to find their mom a new husband, learning about love in the process. The blurb caught my attention with, "letting the laundry pile up like Mount Sinai...".
From the critics
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Lizzie Vogel, middle child of 3, narrates this clear-eyed, comic tale of family dysfunction. It’s 1970, and Lizzie’s mother has just overheard a phone conversation that results in the break-up of her marriage. She takes her 3 children and dog, and moves from their comfortable suburban English home to a small and self-contained village. As a divorcée, she and her children are outsiders from the start.
To regain some social status, and to avoid any dreaded visit from a social worker, Lizzie and her older sister come up with The Man List. It’s a working document of possible eligible men to test out – basically any man at all in their village; unmarried, financially secure, handsome… or not. They send letters (impersonating their mother) inviting these men to tea, one by one, in hopes that someone will stick. Among various setbacks and crises -- pet ponies in the house, a younger brother who mysteriously goes deaf when he closes his eyes, neighbouring twin sisters who target the Vogels, domestic disasters when Lizzie tries to do housework, and lots and lots of money trouble -- they persevere.
When things go really wrong, their mother finally perks up. She gets a job, moves them into an even smaller house, and begins to make things happen. At this point, when they no longer need a “Man at the Helm” to keep them going, Lizzie is about to bin the list. But then they add just one more name…
This is a quick-moving, darkly funny tale of a family in transition. Along with humour and satire, there are also wonderful moments of connection and a sense of hope amidst difficult circumstances. It relies heavily on its setting, so if you enjoy a British sensibility and are interested in a young woman’s voice telling it like it is (or was), you may just love this one.
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