Title: Little Beach Street Bakery
Author: Jenny Coogan
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: 2014
As Polly’s graphic design business with her husband falls apart and they are forced to declare bankruptcy, so crumbles her marriage. With limited funds, Polly is unable to find cheap rent anywhere in Plymouth so she broadens her search. She discovers a home in an “unusual location,” as the listing describes. Located on the tidal island of Mount Polbearne, the two room flat fits her budget. Although it is worn and in desperate need of a good cleaning, Polly grasps the chance to find a place away from Plymouth, away from her former life, and away from her husband Chris, where she can have peace and solitude and a chance, at thirty-two years of age, to rethink her future.
Her best friend Kenesha is convinced she is crazy, but Polly embraces the opportunity for change. The island has definitely seen better days; many of the inhabitants rely on fishing as their income source. As the causeway between the island and the mainland is often covered by the tide, there is limited opportunity for commerce. The lone bakery on the island serves rubber sandwiches made from cheap bread, and is run by a cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Manse, who also happens to be Polly’s landlord.
With little money and little to do, Polly resorts to a favorite past-time, baking. The smells of her homemade bread waft across the harbor and she finds herself running a covert undercover baking operation, as the islanders both dislike Mrs. Manse’s bread and are also frightened of the woman. When Mrs. Manse is injured and must spend time in the hospital, Polly is able to work her passion and talent into something that might be able to sustain both herself and her livelihood.
A delightful cast of characters helps Polly on her journey: Tarnie and Jayden, two fishermen who become her first friends on the island; Huckle, a beekeeper on the mainland who seems to have a secret past; Reuben, Huckle’s immensely rich and pompous and wonderful friend; and Neil, an injured puffin who Polly rescued.
Set on the raw and primal Cornwall coast, Mount Polbearne becomes both a refuge and reawakening for Polly.
Wandering through Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye. I enjoy stories about people reawakening old passions and interests and renewing their lives, whatever the motivation. The fact that the book is set on the Cornwall coast only made it that much more appealing. A truly beautiful story, Little Beach Street Bakery is written through the senses. The sounds of the surf and ocean can be heard through the author’s description, as can the smells of baking bread. What could be more peaceful!
Polly is a very likeable, human, flawed character. I admire her spirit and drive but also understand and feel her pain and sadness. I found myself really rooting for her success and joy.
The English teacher in me loves all the subtle symbolism. The lighthouse light that shines through her bedroom window, both providing security and illuminating her fears, is a constant throughout the book. There is a great twist in this theme at the end that makes my heart sing! The motif of bread making – the kneading of the dough, the fine balance and experimentation of different ingredients, the waiting for the dough to rise and to bake – are all metaphors for the struggles, self-doubt, and personal discovery that Polly faces.
One of my favorite characters, is the island of Mount Polbearne itself! A breath-taking island just off the coast of Cornwall with a castle on the top of the cliff as it overlooks the English Channel. Only accessible by boat or a causeway that is open based on tidal changes, this island is harsh and yet stunning. The evolution of the island and its people through the book just adds to the enjoyment of the story.
Who might like this book:
Don’t get caught in the idea that this book might considered “chick lit;” it is so much more! I really enjoyed the depth to which the author made the parallels between baking and life and how much of the island and its history she incorporated. Yes, I googled the island. Take a look at the picture! Beautiful!! A new addition to my bucket list!
The author is a baker herself and has included numerous bread recipes in the index. I am anxious to try them; I just need to figure out the conversions! I am excited to read other books by this author, especially Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, the sequel to Little Beach Street Bakery.