Susan Coll

Book Review
The New York Times
The Boorish, Comic Life of an Exquisitely Awful Dentist

Nina Stibbe’s “Reasons to Be Cheerful” is so dense with amusing detail that I thought about holding the book upside down to see if any extra funny bits might spill from the creases between the page. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a novel that opens with a British dental surgeon named JP Wintergreen injecting himself with lignocaine and attempting to pull his own teeth.

Lizzie Vogel is a wise and cheerful guide to the absurdities and injustices in the dental surgery where she works. This is Stibbe’s third novel featuring scrappy, highly literate Lizzie, who, now 18, leaves her Midlands village after charming her way into an interview at JP’s practice in Leicester by tossing about phrases like “periodontal gum disease, acid saliva and unchecked dental caries.”

A cut-rate flat above the surgery is among the perks of her new job; it even gets late afternoon sun, making it “tantamount to living in Australia.” Although she’s been warned about the hazards of urban life, including prostitutes and “people trying to sell you things you didn’t need but would soon be addicted to — like feather boas, foreign cigarettes and ready-made sandwiches,” Lizzie is eager for permanent work, a challenge to find in late 1979 without connections or O levels. She embraces her new life, immersing herself in women’s magazines and aspiring to look like a “busy city woman,” which in addition to certain sartorial choices involves carrying lots of things: “bags and picture frames, and almost dropping them but laughing as if slightly shocked.”

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