The Marmalade Diaries: The True Story of an Odd Couple
By Ben Aitken
(325 pages, memoir, 2022)
This is a charming and funny book about being locked down with a complete stranger because of the coronavirus. October 21, 2020 – Ben Aitken is a young writer looking for a cheap room in London. He finds one in a nice neighborhood, for a great price. He thinks that there must be a catch, and there is. The catch is Winnie. Winnie Carter owns the house and has lived there for years. She is 85 to Ben’s 35 years, and has definite opinions on all things, such as how much marmalade can be used, and what kind of marmalade goes on the toast every morning. She’s a wealthy woman who lost her husband 10 months ago, and still sets a place for him every morning. When Ben first meets Winnie she asks him “What’s for dinner?” Apparently, he is going to cook for them every day, as well as do odd jobs around the house and be a companion to Winnie.
Ben and Winnie experience lockdowns several times and can’t get out to visit family or friends. It is an unsettling and maddening time. And yet this is a funny book. I found myself laughing out loud at the things that Winne says, or at a phrase of Ben’s. I didn’t think I’d laugh while reading a book about lockdowns. There are many charming things about Winnie, but also many frustrating ones. She is very critical of his cooking. She describes Ben’s pulled pork as “fractious,” “intimidating” and “seemingly already eaten.” The two become close, almost like family.