Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe


Once again Nina Stibbe has made me a happy listener. This is her third book, this one about Lizzie, now 15, getting a job working in a nursing home in the 1970s. (She was 10 when she tried to find a husband for her mother in Man at the Helm.) She applied for the job in order to be able to buy her preferred kind of shampoo and in her interview convinced the woman who hired her (always called "the owner's wife") to begin using it too, thus greatly improving the texture of her hair. 

Lizzie's job involves taking the patients on "comfort rounds" and she gets to know them as they sit on the toilet. She likes her work and spends so much time there rather than at school, she is kicked out of the O levels. The home almost implodes when the sole competent person, "the owner's wife," leaves to open a rival home. Paradise Lodge is then run by "Matron," who steals the patients' medications for her own use and is there only to find someone who will provide her with a cottage upon his death. A crisis occurs when the local grocer will not deliver any food until the bill is paid. As she recounts the dramas at Paradise Lodge, Lizzie keeps us entertained with her endearing approach to storytelling:

Wednesdays had always been my favorite day the week, partly the name, partly the afternoon games, and partly something to do with Winnie the Pooh that I can't remember now. Anyway, it was a Wednesday and I was just arriving at Paradise Lodge….

The institution was saved when the owner hired an efficient and appealing woman called Sister Celim whose origins Lizzie did not ask about. Lizzie's mother was annoyed that she did not ask:

"It's not rude to ask," yelled my mother, "it's rude not to ask. She's your new work colleague, your boss, not a person in the street." My mother's world was part sonnet, part Bob Dylan song, and part boarding school dormitory. She thought everyone should share everything. She thought it was ok to buy a beggar a sandwich. She thought it was normal to jump into a river with nothing on and to chat to the girl on the check out about instant mash and having better things to do than to peel potatoes. She believed people should celebrate each other's exuberancies and joys and and stay up till midnight to share their pain. I think it came from being a certain age at a certain time in the 1960s and it feeling so wonderful to shake off the doom and gloom and disregard the rules. And she thought it was going to be like that forever.

This is the same woman who gave Lizzie such good advice about the visits of the pig in Man at the Helm.

Nina Stibbe, Paradise Lodge, Little, Brown and Company, 2016, 288 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the public library and from Amazon.

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