Quirky, British, and on the cusp of adulthood, Lizzie Vogel is starting a new chapter of her life, which will include guerrilla dentistry, her first dinner party, and possibly a romance with Andy Nicolello, whose mother may be even more eccentric than her own (“Mine: drunk, divorcee, nudist, amphetamine addict, nymphomaniac, shoplifter, would-be novelist, poet, playwright”).
In two earlier volumes, Stibbe (Paradise Lodge, 2016, etc.) has traced the chaotic but disarming history of the Vogels as experienced by middle child Lizzie. Now 18, Lizzie no longer works part time at the Paradise Lodge old people’s home, having accepted a proper job as assistant to hateful, racist dentist JP Wintergreen. The position comes with an apartment over the practice, and Lizzie encounters the mixed blessings of freedom and loneliness there; she finds solace reading women’s magazines, which inspire dreams of a future, in London, writing columns of her own like “Eleven Warning Signs that Your Husband Is Bored with His Food.” Deadpan yet droll, and no kind of rebel, Lizzie is taking her first unsteady steps into adulthood—learning to drive, buying a clingy dress (to be worn without panties), and exploring the possibility of intimacy with handsome yet diffident Andy. Andy works for the Mercurial Dental Laboratory, so is always dropping in, but the couple bonds over the use of Lizzie's Hoover Aristocrat washer/dryer and a spot of illegal dental work to help out a friend of her mother’s. Stibbe, a master of low-key observation and throwaway punchlines, captures Lizzie’s romantic uncertainty and open, sometimes-wounded heart while also pointing up the intermittent absurdity and restrictions of life for women in provincial England in the early 1980s.
An idiosyncratic, bittersweet coming-of-age tale that certainly justifies its title.