Paradise Lodge – Nina Stibbe – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Unlike many audiobooks, once you have listened to ten minutes of “Paradise Lodge”, Nina Stibbe’s latest novel, it is hard to imagine it in any other form. The book itself is already engaging and it is greatly enhanced by the performance of its reader, Helen Baxendale (you may remember her in her role as Emily, the British girlfriend, who is abandoned at the altar by Ross in “Friends”) who captures the voice and quirky personality of the confused, young heroine, Lizzie Vogel.
Set in 1977, we meet 15 year old Lizzie chatting with her (sometimes) friend, Miranda Longlady, and are immediately intrigued by her off-beat, oblique view of the world around her. Miranda has just spotted an ad for part-time work at Paradise Lodge, a local retirement home, and the two girls decide to apply. Miranda lies at her interview that “she was a compassionate person who had experienced illness” whereas Lizzie admits that she needs the money to buy “Maxwell House Coffee (with its fresh aroma promise) and Linco Beer Shampoo” rather than the generic brands her family normally bought.
The staff Lizzie meets at Paradise Lodge seem more suited to a women’s prison than to an old folks home. Apart from the owner’s wife, who soon disappears from the scene, the rest of the nursing staff range from the incompetent to the downright uncaring. The alcoholic owner wanders about ineffectually in his dressing gown (when he remembers to wear it), leaving the running of the place to Matron whose treatment of staff and patients alike borders on the sadistic. There’s Nurse Gwen “who worked on the principle of keeping the patients comfortable and happy but not necessarily alive” and when we meet the rest of the nurses they are almost invariably smoking or drinking coffee, ignoring, as much as possible, the ringing bells of their patients.
Lizzie’s zany, Adrian Mole-like recounting of day-to-day life at the Lodge is often hilarious and always entertaining but underneath the comedy there is a growing awareness on her part (and on ours) of the sad, isolated lives of some of the residents. Her path crosses with two, in particular; Mr Simmons, who is repeatedly kidnapped by his stepdaughter, a teacher in Lizzie’s school, trying to get her hands on her inheritance, and Lady Briggs who spends seven lonely years in a private room and to whom Lizzie is able to confide her innermost secrets.
This hugely entertaining novel would be the perfect audiobook for holiday listening. In Lizzie, Stibbe has created a lovable, unconventional character whose deadpan delivery is both funny and moving. Lizzie appears in a previous book of Stibbe’s “Man at the Helm” (2014) which tells of her earlier life and unorthodox family but each book works well as a stand-alone novel.
Both are available as audiobooks from audible.co.uk
Paradise Lodge lasts 9h 13 mins.