An English teenager with a rackety home life finds part-time work in a local retirement home and encounters old people, eccentricity, gossip, and death.
Lizzie Vogel was 10 when she narrated the first tragicomic installment of life with her family in Stibbe’s fiction debut (Man at the Helm, 2015); now it's 1977, and she's 15 and no longer needs to search for a partner for her fragile mother or a substitute father for herself and her siblings. These days, home includes tolerant Mr. Holt and a new baby, and Lizzie can concentrate on other distractions: school, friends, better shampoo, and—after taking a job as “auxiliary nurse” at Paradise Lodge, a home for the elderly—bodily functions and mortality. On her very first day of work (“boring, slightly exciting and briefly horrible”), Lizzie glimpses a corpse in the morgue (“I’d seen a dead man’s toe”) and will later experience the demises of several more patients. (Elvis, Marc Bolan, and Maria Callas also meet their ends in this volume.) Meanwhile, her role at the Lodge includes assisting the elderly clients, helping them (frequently) to the bathroom, and weathering the peculiar comings and goings of patients and staff alike. Stibbe’s deadpan first-person delivery once again balances quirky charm with beady insight while this new chapter in Lizzie’s life introduces a larger community of characters. As in the earlier book, the plot is episodic, charting upsets in the lives of the kindly and the kooky, underpinned by Lizzie’s search for some kind of momentum and meaning. Looser and less unified than the first book until near the end, the novel closes on a celebratory note, knitting multiple loose ends together and propelling frequent-truant Lizzie back to school to fulfill her potential as “an intellect-ual.”
Another deft helping of absurd social comedy and unconventional wisdom from a writer of singular, decidedly English gifts.