Marie Dunwoody tries to do it all – maintain a happy marriage, raise three children, and run her own dental practice, a vocation to which she is devoted. She manages an impressive juggling act of her responsibilities, but when she is told at the last minute by her twins that she’s meant to be baking a showstopper for their school fair she feels she has failed, having to resort to Mr. Kipling Fondant Fancies. Her humiliation is reinforced by her seemingly perfect neighbour Lucy’s beautiful creations outshining her meagre offerings. The fair proves to be transformative, however, when Marie happens upon a copy of Mary Berry’s Complete Baking Bible. She vows to become more like Mary, and in consequence, to her mind, a better mother.
Her ambition soon becomes something of an obsession as she battles her way through simple sponges, the threat of the challenging croquembouche, which she has promised to make for a friend’s wedding, constantly hanging over her. Keen bakers will feel a sense of familiarity in the frustrations and satisfaction in attempting to produce a perfect bake, and relish in the humour of Marie and her husband Robert’s split allegiance when he becomes a devotee of Paul Hollywood. The book is not all light-hearted Bake-Off references and collapsing cakes however, dealing with the pressures of marriage and parenthood, and the contrast between appearances and reality. It is this which makes the book unforgettable and drags you into the lives of the inhabitants of a small suburban street.
Marie’s son Angus is besotted with a girl he has only ever met online while completely ignoring the affections of his neighbour Chloe, the future of the dental practice is threatened by the opening of a rival across the road, more concerned with aesthetics than quality dental care, Robert’s job is hanging in the balance, and Lucy’s perfect life is a constant frustration. It all feels very real and relevant.
Through her baking endeavours Marie’s perspective begins to change and neighbourhood scandals are discovered. All the revelations may not be a total shock to the reader, but it is the journey that matters, and you find yourself becoming quite attached to the characters. A feel-good book accurately portraying the day-to-day challenges and triumphs of a modern family. This was something of a diversion from my normal reading habits, but one that I’m very glad I took.