Review – What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy

By | July 27, 2014

This is a story about family life, unfriendly rivalry and flat Victoria sponges

Marie Dunwoody doesn’t want for much in life. She has a lovely husband, three wonderful children, and a business of her own. Except, her cupcakes are crap. Her meringues are runny and her biscuits rock-hard. She cannot bake for toffee. Or, for that matter, make toffee.

Marie can’t ignore the disappointed looks any more, or continue to be shamed by neighbour and nemesis, Lucy Gray. Lucy whips up perfect profiteroles with one hand, while ironing her bed sheets with the other. Marie’s had enough: this is the year it all changes. She vows to follow – to the letter – recipes from the Queen of Baking and at all times ask ‘What would Mary Berry do?’

Husband Robert has noticed that his boss takes crumb structure as seriously as budget sheets and so puts on the pinny: serious redundancies are on the horizon. Twins Rose and Iris are happy to eat all the half-baked mistakes that come their way, but big brother Angus is more distant than usual, as if something is troubling him. And there is no one as nosey as a matching pair of nine-year-old girls . . .

Marie starts to realise that the wise words of Mary Berry can help her with more than just a Victoria Sponge. But can Robert save the wobbling soufflĂ© that is his career? And is Lucy’s sweet demeanour hiding something secretly sour?

I’m going to be absolutely honest about this one – this is a book I probably would never have picked up had I not thought I was doing so to be part of the blog tour. That didn’t quite work out, but I’m so very glad I did – it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and taught me a valuable lesson about not judging a book by its cover (or, indeed, by its cover notes).

I won’t retell the story – you have it above – but what doesn’t come across from that is the lovely well-judged humour through its pages, the witty writing, the genuinely emotional moments, and the beautifully drawn and (mostly) likeable characters. Even if you’ve never heard of Mary Berry, you can enjoy this book, because there’s something here that almost anyone can identify with. I particularly loved Marie’s teenage son Angus and his relationship with the goth girl over the road, and the twins Rose and Iris with their comments on life and the wider universe, and their wonderful interfering ways of driving on the story. Marie’s relationship with domestic goddess Lucy was quite wonderful, and I loved the way it developed, and some of the subplots (in particular the rival dental surgery, its slick owner and his relationship with the emotionally complex dental nurse) were brilliantly handled.

The publishers recommend this one to fans of Jenny Colgan and Allison Pearson, and I can’t argue with that.  You don’t really need to know anything about cooking or popular culture to enjoy it, and you don’t need to be under 30 or familiar with the ways of children. This single almost-pensioner really enjoyed it – if you’re looking for a light, well-written and funny story with a heart, this just might be one for you too.

My thanks to Lucie at publishers Pan Macmillan for my review copy. What Would Mary Berry Do? is published by Pan Books on 31st July.

Claire Sandy lives in Surrey with a husband and a daughter and loves lots of things, such as baking, reading, writing, eating, chatting about matters of global importance with her nine year old, dressing up her dog and inventing new things to do with gin. She’s worked at many things – advertising, radio jingles, a wool shop – and thanks her lucky stars that writing What Would Mary Berry Do? involved every single item on her list of loved things.