Book Reviews

The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken

Really, this should be sub-titled Old Folks’ Home for 35 Year Olds. Written in the present tense, it’s the author’s daily diary of life as Winnie Carter’s lodger for a year during London’s Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Matched through the UK’s Share and Care Homeshare program, Winnie is 85, recently widowed and living in her own very large home in Richmond. She is elderly but still fit and armed with a very sharp brain and wit. The 35 year old author, Ben, is matched to her as being compatible with her interests of gardening and paintings. As a lodger, he moves into her spacious home (it’s got six bedrooms over at least four levels) and takes up residence in the top floor, converted into a separate flat.

Bonding over breakfast (and marmalade) the autobiography is packed full of witty repartees and non sequiturs sprinkled liberally through the conversation (and this is from Winnie). The unlikely friendship between an elderly lady from a privileged background with a Millennial chap evolves slowly but surely, with both learning new things from each other (Ben, learning that boiling eggs in a saucepan leaves limescale in the pot, Winnie learning what pulled pork is).

I devoured this book in two sittings, alternatively roaring with laughter at the conversation between Winnie and Ben, then floored by the depth of care Ben shows towards Winnie and her adult children and grandchildren. Sprinkled amongst the chapters are small portraits of Winnie’s life, from a baby of diplomat parents, to childhood then onto meeting and marrying her Henry.

The humour is dry and droll as only the best of British story telling can create.

Other reviewers have found the ending abrupt; the careful reader can find a graceful explanation in the prologue.

Reviewed by Belinda Coombs
Murder and Crime Reading Group

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The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken

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