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by Allegra Goodman
Reviewed by Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe

The Cookbook Collector is one of those instantly engaging books that makes you want to tell all your friends that they must read it even when you are only half way through the novel yourself. Author Allegra Goodman did herself a disservice when she described her new novel as "Sense and Sensibility for the digital age", particularly given the number of outraged responses that subsequently appeared on Jane Austen fan pages. Goodman deals with much bigger issues than Jane Austen ever aspired to write about in her novels, however exquisite those classics might be.

Yes, The Cookbook Collector does focus on two very different sisters—the sensible, driven Emily and the whimsical philosophy major, Jessamine—but the worlds they inhabit and the challenges they encounter are so much more complex and demanding than Austen's heroines, the Dashwood sisters, could even begin to dream of.

Ambitious, yet compassionate, twenty-eight year old Emily is an internet entrepreneur who is about to become one of the new millionaires. She is also on the verge of marrying Jonathan, who is equally driven but not quite as ethical as his fiancée. Emily's younger sister, Jess, is the eternal student who works part-time in a bookstore owned by a gruff "older man" who retired from the IT world after making his fortune at an early age. George loves collecting beautiful things and it seems that he has his eye on Jess. She, however, is in love with an eco-warrior who plans to save the redwoods. So maybe, on the surface, the first half of The Cookbook Collector isn't too far removed from a Jane Austen novel.

But halfway through the book the reader comes to realise that Goodman's novel is much more than just a modern comedy of love and manners. Suddenly the reader is plunged into the world of wheeling and dealing; the pressures of attempting to follow the head when the heart says otherwise; the longing to find meaning and the hunger for a higher, spiritual connection in a consumer driven society; the need to heal rifts within families; and, last but never least, the desire for a true "marriage of the minds". Along the way the reader also gets to learn about early cookbooks, the rise and fall of companies, antique book collecting, orthodox Judaism, computer codes and California redwoods.

The Cookbook Collector is a perfect choice for book groups as there is so much to discuss, and it also helps that Goodman has an impressive backlist for first time readers to go back and savour