Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2014)
A treat for foodies and Jane Austen fans, Lizzy and Jane brings together two sisters who’ve successfully avoided meaningful contact since their mother died years earlier. Now Jane is enduring chemotherapy for breast cancer. Elizabeth, a successful chef, has lost her edge. A flying visit home might be just what she needs.
If that sounds like the book’s a downer, let the artsy cover reassure you. There are tears, but there’s laughter, family comfort, friendship, and Elizabeth even finds a chance at romance. Plus there’s the food.
Initially I found it hard to engage, because Elizabeth begins as very self-focused. I’m glad I kept reading, because the story has lots to say about our need to truly listen to one another and discover each other’s true perspective instead of reading from the surface.
The contrasting vibes of Jane’s Seattle and Elizabeth’s New York City interested me. The faith thread encouraged me without feeling preachy. But what most caught my attention was the idea that a cancer patient’s chemo-tainted taste buds and appetite could be satisfied by food tailored to match the things they find most comforting—including their preferences in books. I don’t know if this has any basis in fact, but it’s definitely interesting.
Bonus takeaway: Elizabeth suggested using a pinch of cinnamon in tomato-based cooking (like spaghetti sauce and stew). I tried it. Yum!
The novel also provides some deliciously evocative lines. A taste, to let you see, as Elizabeth observes another character:
He was trying to do the impossible—carry the weight of all that was unable to be held and pull his energy from sheer frustration and anger. [page 143]
What I had thought was an angry stalk looked different now. It looked like a walk tinged with desperation—a suppressed, scared gait that was fast because slow would make him too vulnerable; he might get caught. [page 145]
[Review copy from the public library.]