After addressing a desire for a cookbook recently, it’s not surprising that my eye was caught by The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.
Goodman’s been called “a modern-day Jane Austen,” and I can see the parallel – the novel focuses primarily on two sisters and their romantic entanglements, as well as the goings-on of their friends, employers, and various family members. The cookbook collector in question is an elderly man who bequeaths his extensive – and valuable – collection to his niece upon his death, extracting from her a promise to keep the collection together. Unrequited love for the niece’s mother… and that the niece must sell the collection to pay for an expensive lawyer so that her own daughter may maintain custody of her children… are the rings of complications that flow ever outward, involving George (the 40+, wealthy, employer and unsuitable suitor for young Jessamine), his various competitors, Jess herself, and so on. Add an unlikely, tree-hugging boyfriend, Jess’ fear of heights, George’s ability to deny the undeniable, and you’re sucked in completely.
Toss in a couple of heady high-tech start-ups (one headed by sister Emily, the other by her boyfriend Jonathon), secrets and security, love and betrayal, make the timeframe the late 90s/early 2000’s, and the next thing you know it’s 9/11. Devastation occurs. Clarity develops.
The book is charming, the characters well-drawn, but plot intricacies and “you’ve got to be kidding me” coincidences abound. If you can set aside your sense of cynicism, The Cookbook Collector is a great way to pass a few hours snuggled down under the duvet.