‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ by Nina Stibbe


‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ by Nina Stibbe (2019) – 275 pages

‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ has been called a comic novel, but for me it went way beyond humor to be a very fine meaningful work indeed. Nina Stibbe doesn’t try to be funny, she is just naturally funny. It is her way of putting things.

Lizzie, the first-person 19-year-old narrator here, has a mind of her own, a sharp mind of her own. She is moving out of her family house and starting her first job. When you look back on your first real job, you probably remember the people there quite vividly, whether for good or bad. Lizzie works in a dental office for a dentist she can’t stand. She lives in an apartment right above the dentist’s office. The dentist won’t do work for brown-skinned people through the National Health Service so Lizzie, having watched the dentist extract a tooth and so on, does the work herself.

Lizzie meets a young guy named Andy Nicolello who is a member of a family from her neighborhood that her family has known and that has been the subject of gossip from way back. Lizzie’s family has quite a few quirks of their own, especially her mother.

Did it honestly matter that we’d been raised and shaped by eccentric mothers?

Mine: drunk, divorcee, nudist, amphetamine addict, nymphomaniac, shoplifter, would-be novelist, poet, playwright.

His: teetotal, anti-establishment, rabbit trapper, alleged suicide-pact participant, television-forbidder, misery guts.

Did it make us incompatible in the eyes of the world? Plus, what did it matter what people thought?”

Yet often Lizzie’s mother is the voice of baffling reason. But this time it is Lizzie’s sister with the advice:

Look, you’re weird, he’s weird, together you will be a million times weirder. Your mutual weirdness will reflect forever – like mirrors that face each other.”

Lizzie’s attitude toward life and friends and love is irresistible.

‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ is a jaunty sustained spirited performance. I have found that with many comic novels I grow weary of the author’s sense of humor. These novels tend to be too episodic without a continuous story. Then I sense the author is trying too hard to be funny. In ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, Nina Stibbe avoids all these problems. Even when events turn tragic, we are with Lizzie all the way.

‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ is a reason to be cheerful.


Grade:    A



2 responses to this post.

  1. You should read the previous two Lizzie Vogel books – Man at the Helm is hilarious, and Paradise Lodge is pretty good too. This one is on my shelf – looking forward to it.



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