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Who would have thought that the story of a normal family living a normal life and dealing with normal things in a normal way would be captivating?

Book Review: ‘What Would Mary Berry Do?’ by Claire Sandy

Mary Berry is to Marie what idols are to many people: a touchstone of sorts to which we turn when we are in dire straits, gaining focus by centering our thoughts and actions on what would this person do in our position.

The lovely tale that is What Would Mary Berry Do? features no big time drama, no reality television worthy scene, no mystery, nothing that would most probably never happen to you. What keeps you turning the page is empathy; because you don’t need to be a mother or even a wife to connect with Marie in her attempts to navigate life a little more elegantly. This connection with Marie made me turn the pages, cheering her on, and hoping she would be able to conquer the beast that is her kitchen (amongst other things).

The book starts with a typical my-neighbour-is-the-perfect-mom-and-homemaker-and-I-suck scene. I have to confess it made me a little uncomfortable, for it had the potential of leading the way for a superficial story featuring stereotypes. But only a few pages in, I am reassured by the author taking us into the mind of Marie’s teenage son, which is the beginning of some complexity. Although the book is centered on her, it isn’t just about Marie; we also get to glimpse the same household through the eyes of her husband, and her children, especially the oldest one. And while I did wish at times for the delving to go a little deeper, What Would Mary Berry Do? was still quite an enjoyable read.

Marie’s muse is a cooking genius, a little like Rachael Ray if you must. And while it might seem like wanting to learn how to bake for the reasons specified in the book is superficial, one only has to hang in there to see the positive effects Marie’s baking has on her own self, on her family, and on her community. After all, cooking is not just about making things; it is a way to bring a family together, a way to bring comfort and joy to others, a way to learn discipline, a way to build bonds of friendship. The kitchen is, in this book, the heart of the home, and what brings not only the members of Marie’s family together, but also some members of their community.

Some of the other things that Marie learns on her journey towards becoming a better baker includes the choice of not to judging someone without knowing them; it also includes the realization that once you know someone, you are no longer in a position to judge them after all. Another thing Marie learns is that jealousy has the nasty ability of blinding you, and becomes one of the reasons you would judge someone in the first place. We as the reader can see from very beginning that Marie’s attitude towards her picture perfect neighbour Lucy is heavily tainted by her feeling insecure because of her inability to keep as spotless a home. What Would Mary Berry Do? also chronicles Marie’s journey from blindly jealous to openly accepting, which it a good occasion for readers to pause and wonder how in our day to day life we are perchance making the same mistake.

Marie’s husband soon joins her on the path of learning more about life through learning how to bake. As a long-term employee with many years of successful experience, he knows his stuff and knows that he knows his stuff. But as a younger employee starts playing the game to get his job, he finds himself engaging in this same game. And while this, combined with his experience, put him in a safer position, the increasingly blurring lines between being professional and unprofessional make him increasingly unhappy. Again, readers are encourages to pause and reflect on their own actions which, although intended to keep them happy, just might be contributing to exactly the contrary.

As mentioned, What Would Mary Berry Do?’s plot is very simple, to the point that some turn of events can be predicted from the very first chapters, if not pages. From the get-go, readers will probably figure out that a certain loyalty would develop, a certain confidence would be betrayed, and a certain secret would turn out to be the answer to the only remotely mysterious part of the plot. This predictability however does not make the book a boring read; rather, author Sandy engages us in such a way that we want to figure out how the predictable occurs.

A book that doesn’t attempt to patronize or to be condescending, What Would Mary Berry Do? is a book about a happy family trying to live life in a better way. It’s about a woman trying to become a better mother. It’s about a father trying to hold on to his job in a manner coherent with his personal belief system. It’s about a teenager navigating a difficult year in his life. It’s about two adorable little sisters -– twins, at that -– using their spotless reputation to help those they love the most. Claire Sandy’s contribution to your bookshelf is an enjoyable read that will make you grateful for the loved ones in your life, even the ones (or especially the ones?) that drive you nuts.

Claire Sandy is also known as Bernie Strachan, about whom more information is available on her website.

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