Oct 152010

A Novel About Collectors, Tech Companies, Rabbis and Tree Conservationists!

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon Vine

As an Austenesque Addict that enjoys devouring every Austen-related novel that she can find, I have to admit that The Cookbook Collector is not a book I would normally read. It is only because the author was proclaimed to be “a modern day Jane Austen” and her latest novel, a modern day Sense and Sensibility, that this contemporary fiction novel found a place in my to-be-read pile.

Similar to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, this novel opens by introducing two very diverse sisters. Emily Bach, at the age of twenty-eight, is the CEO of a new start-up company called Veritech. Responsible and rational Emily is involved in a long-distance bi-coastal relationship with her boyfriend Jonathon, who is working on his own dot-com start-up. Working in the same competitive field, both Emily and Jonathan struggle with selfishness, intimacy, and trust. Emily’s younger sister Jess is a twenty-three year old student pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy, an active participant in the Save the Trees organization, and a vegan. Jess works part-time in a rare and antique book store owned by George Friedman, a wealthy, erudite, yet querulous bachelor. Unbeknownst to Jess, George is often consumed with thoughts of his innocent, free-spirited, and lively young employee…

Beginning in 1999 during the dot-com boom and ending in May 2002 with the aftermath of 9/11, this novels spans the course of three and a half years. The Cookbook Collector intricately weaves together multiple plot lines that introduce and highlight several groups of characters. In this story we learn about the stress and unpredictability of working for tech start-up companies, discover the untold truth about a deceased relative, and unearth the unrequited love of a cookbook collector. In addition, we encounter several Jewish rabbis and climb trees with a group tree conservationists. Even though I did find these various plot lines interesting, at times it felt like there was a little too much going on and too many characters to remember. A novel about collectors, tech companies, rabbis, and tree conservationists is perhaps a little too crowded and overwhelming.

My favorite storyline was the one involving Jess, George, and the cookbook collection. Ms. Goodman established an exquisitely sublime, sensual, and hard-won romance between them. It definitely made me think of Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon, and I would have loved for the novel to be just about them and the mystery of the cookbook collector! I found Emily’s storyline to be a little disappointing and I did not see the necessity of including the many rabbis and Hasidic Judaism elements.

As a Janeite, do I feel the Jane Austen comparison valid? Yes and no. It is obvious Ms. Goodman was influenced and inspired by Jane Austen but to say she is a “modern day Jane Austen” is a little misleading. While Ms. Goodman included a vast array of ridiculous, lovable, and detestable characters and interwove their storylines, it was not always successful. However, the characterization of Jess Bach was a strong and accurate representation of a modern day Marianne Dashwood, (you know Marianne would proudly support Save the Trees if it existed during her lifetime!). In addition, The Cookbook Collector did convey the themes of money, unrequited love, marriage similarly to Jane Austen’s novels. An example of this is how Jess and George find it difficult to overcome the differences between their incomes and lifestyles (similar to Darcy and Elizabeth).

Is this a modern day Sense and Sensibility? No. How I wish it was! Emily and Jonathan’s story was nothing like Elinor and Edward’s. Their story was kind of flat and I think Jonathan and his company received more page time than Emily did.

Would I recommend this to fellow Janeites? Sure. It is a delightful and well-written story that includes a gratifying and flourishing romance. However, I would caution Janeites to not expect a great many number of connecting links to Jane Austen. While there are a few links and subtle nods for Janeites to enjoy, for some, a bigger serving of Jane Austen may be desired!
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  6 Responses to “The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman”


    I read this earlier in Sept, because of the cover/title and the Jane Austen comparison — I was disappointed she was not more Jane-ish, but did find the story enjoyable (if a bit confusing at first, haha). I agree with you: Jonathan & Co got a LOT more ‘airtime’ than Emily — I felt like I didn’t know her as well as the others … I wonder if that was intentional?


    Sounds like it was close to hitting the mark but fell short–great review. I liked how you were able to pinpoint where the novel worked and where it didn’t.

    Not sure I’ll read it, but I may just out of curiosity.


    Interesting – and kind of scary. Quite frankly, all of the storylines you describe eerily seem to parallel my own life, in which vegans, philosophy majors, Judaism, dot-coms, and rare cookbooks have all played a major role. I don’t know if that makes me want to read the book or run away in terror. Either way, you have given me much to think about.


    I read this in August and I must say that I was slightly disappointed. Every author that gets compared to our beloved Austen never lives up to the lofty standards that we Austenites have!

    However, I really loved savoured the scenes with Jess and George. Was deliciously like the r/s between Marianne and Colonel Brandon, although his love for her remained unrequited longer though.


    Hmm? Meredith, you liked this better than I did. I think it is literary suicide for an author to claim their novel is the Sense and Sensibility of the digital age. It may get people to read your book, but not the next one. I did like George and Jess’s romance. My friend thought that the age difference was creepy and it wouldn’t last. I had my doubts too, since like Marianne, Jess was romantic and impulsive.


    Sounds interesting! I will have to check this one out.

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