Varieties of Hunger

In an interview about her novel The Cookbook Collector, Allegra Goodman was asked why she chose the title. She replied:

This is a book about hunger and about acquisition; it’s a book about people deciding how to live. The cookbook motif raises interesting questions: Is it better to follow a formula or recipe as you live your life? Or improvise as you go along?

By “hunger” I think Goodman is also referring to a strong desire, a longing both for ideas and love, for success and riches.

How sad he thought, that desire found new objects but did not abate, that when it came to longing there was no end.

Emily, the older of two contrasting sisters and CEO of Veritech, a software firm in Silicon Valley, longs for Jonathan, the founder of ISIS, a software firm in Cambridge.

He needed Emily to believe in him so that he could believe in himself.

Jess(amine, Emily’s younger sister, a graduate student in philosophy at Berkeley longs for wisdom, literature and eventually George, a Microsoft millionaire, bookstore owner and rare book collector.

…he was constantly disappointed. Dissatisfied. He was always looking for the next thing. He had the mind of a researcher, restlessly turning corners, seeking out new questions.

Both sisters “hunger” for the truth about their mother who died when they were very young.

Information wasn’t always such a gift; it was also a loss, the end of possibility.

Meanwhile, George yearns for Jess.

…he never stopped desiring the one he couldn’t find…The one he couldn’t find became the one he couldn’t have.

Orion, the software programmer for ISIS, yearns for Sorel, an independent soul, who also works at ISIS.

…he grew more solitary, even as he hungered for companionship.

In a word, every person depicted in this intellectual rich novel hungers after one thing or another—fulfillment, knowledge, achievement and love.

I prefer the chase; I like pursuit better than so-called fulfillment. Everybody does.

Is all of this longing worth the chase? Goodman concludes with this question:

What profit is it to own so many things, to stroll in gardens and enjoy previous jewels, to each such food and drink such wine? In the end, what good is it to collect such riches? Every wall will crumble. The beautiful will wither and decay.