A Blue Room Book Review – The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman


Who makes these decisions??? Who on earth in Obama’s administration would have had the ‘bright’ notion that it would be in the national interest to ‘eavesdrop’ on the personal mobile phone of the head of state of a friendly nation, in this case Germany’s Angela Merkel . Did the official responsible really presume she’d use this mode to air her country’s ‘secrets’. Did Obama okay it personally? I’d like to think not as he comes across as an eminently sensible, measured man – and he was sure quick to apologise and promise rectification. Are there still cold war warriors in the deep recesses of the Pentagon, or from wherever this was done, who would suspect that Merkel, in instructing hubby on what to pick up from the supermarket on the way home, would yield insights into the dangers lurking in the psyche of, from all appearances and actions, another thoroughly worthy statesperson? It beggars belief! Perhaps such are the insecurities of those who make these lousy decisions for the world’s sole remaining superpower that even bosom buddies are fair game. At least, though, the German matron was informed her American allies would not be so crass again. Obama would see to that.

No such language from the execrable Abbott after our country, acting way above our station as a relatively minor regional power, felt it necessary to bug the mobile phone of the leader of our nearest and extremely populous northern neighbour. Not satisfied with our infringement on Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s personal space, some moron felt it was in our ‘national interest’ (there’s that term again) to bug his wife’s as well. This all occurred under the shambolic auspices of Abbott’s immediate predecessor in his first term as PM. But the ‘mad monk’ seemed to agree that we are so important we have every right to piss off a neighbour we had spent decades trying to get into the good books of – let alone someone he was trying to cultivate as an ally in his war against the poor wretches who use that country as a stepping stone en route to ours in the hope of escaping certain harassment, even death, in their own. Not satisfied with the job he’d done on Indonesia, our Tony and his cohorts then turned their attention to the affairs of our number one trading partner over a matter we had no business sticking our nose into. Why should we give a rats who owns those rocks in the South China Sea! Of course East Timor is small fry, but we still felt we had to gather information from the cabinet room of one of the world’s most destitute countries so we were in more of a position to assist giant multi-national Woodside Petroleum bully then out of their Timor Sea petroleum rights for an unfair price. Of course, that too, under Downer, was in the ‘national interest’.

So what has this rant to do with Goodman’s quite engaging book? Well her tale, in part, examines the fictional personnel of those early dot com start-ups that eventually came up with the idea of giving governments the means to gather masses of digital data from ‘private’ sources. This technocretin is not exactly sure just what a ‘start-up’ is, but it seems in the early nineties any organisation with the prefix of ‘e’ or suffix of ‘com’ engendered much interest and millions of dollars on the stock market – till the ‘bubble’ burst early this century. Many involved became paper millionaires, but most went belly up soon after. These included the book’s Veritech and ISIS companies. The former was run by Emily Bach and it did not survive the ‘bubble’ bursting, but nonetheless came up with the idea for the means to reap the data off all on-line communications, with opportunities for government purchase thereof. The latter company hung in there and reaped the rewards of that idea as it just so happens its messianic CEO, Jonathan, was in a relationship with Emily. Then 9/11 happened to put paid to all his plans. I must admit that this narrative thread lost me in places, but I became enamoured of the parallel story line. It involved Emily’s sister, Jessamine (just quietly, I was also enamoured of the name), who involves herself with yet another messianic figure, this time a venerated tree-hugger. This was much to the chagrin of the man who truly loved her – her much older boss at the antiquarian book shop of her employment. This plotline is a tale of following what one’s heart desires, even though the odds are stacked agin. As a sideline George, Jessamine’s would be suitor, is angling to purchase a fantastic collection of first edition cookbooks (thus the title), currently in the care of one very odd woman.

Goodman’s novel takes a while to grab hold, but once one is in the web there’s no way out till a follow through is conducted to the very last page. I didn’t particularly care about all the nonsense with the dot coms, the book’s intrigues involving’ Jewishness’ or whether or not George wins his quest for the cookery tomes – but I found myself enthralled as to whether or not the bookseller’s quest for affection and more from his Jessamine would be successful. Was it a Hollywood ending? Well you’ll just have to find that out for yourselves, but what would one expect?

Allegra – another appellation with allure, particularly when attached to the handsome woman who appears on the dust jacket – Goodman, we are informed, is a New York Times’ best-seller. Her book’s not great literature, but it paces along at a fair clip. It is just a tad overloaded with some personnel who, really, are superfluous to needs. In an ideal world I’d investigate her other offerings, but the un-perused pile alongside my bed is not diminishing to a marked degree. There’s a way to go before I have that luxury. Those who chance by this scribbling, though, could do worse.


Ms Goodman’s web-site = http://www.allegragoodman.com/

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