“Because for the first time in months, maybe years, a person, a food, a need, an answer and an inspiration had melted together and become whole. This is what I was after and it felt close. I simmered with giddiness.”
Lizzy and Jane is an effortlessly told story of illness, grief, familial relations and the frayed ties that bind. Two sisters separated by distance and wedged by loss rediscover what connected them in the first place as Lizzy learns to relinquish control, find love and adventure and give her heart completely.
"It's literature ! And you never talk down the reader. You expect them to have a working knowledge of Dickens and Hemingway among others. And the themes are so subtle and resonant. And the dialogue just sparkles. It's edgy and sardonic and bitter and buoyant and sparkly and all good things ! The setting of Seattle just permeates the page. And I can see its colours and smell what Lizzy is cooking and it is remarkable. The whole thing. Just perfect"
With a coy nod to Austen and a breathtaking voice that never takes the reader’s working knowledge of classics for granted ( indeed, expects the reader to rise to the whipsmart level), Lizzy and Jane is the benchmark for cross-over fiction sprinkled with inspirational themes yet woven in a unique and literary voice.
“Suddenly I knew two things: Nick couldn’t leave and winks were better than chocolate.”
“Great writers and my mom never used food as an object. Instead it was a medium, a catalyst to mend hearts, to break down barriers, to build relationships"
“I tapped Emma, resting on Jane’s lap: You see it in Austen. She only mentions food as a means to bring characters together, reveal aspects of their nature and their moral fiber. Hemingway does the same, though he skews more towards the drinks. Nevertheless, it’s never about the food---it’s about what the food becomes in the hands of the giver and the recipient.”
Reay has constructed a sub-genre of literary love letter infused with enough favourite reads to peak the interest of those familiar while weaving the same themes in an accessible way for her readership at large.
And the tenets of Grace are so smart and delicate. As smart and delicate as the reference she makes to Babette's Feast: that gorgeous movie shaped by the Isak Denisen book and appropriated by Philip Yancey for What's So Amazing About Grace:
“It’s a movie-," a sleepy Lizzy informs Nick, " a Danish movie about a small remote village that gets caught up in petty squabbles. Then Babette, a formerly famous Parisian chef, comes to work for the two main characters. It’s about a glorious meal that brings forgiveness and….love.. It brings love.”
Grace is never so greatly epitomized than in communal feasting and that motif stretches lyrically strong through the work without bludgeoning the reader with the obvious stick. We deserve this novel, reader, you and I. We are WORTHY of this novel, you and I. Reay writes for the thinking person.
“It’s never too late to learn that the love needs to be greater than the like.”
“She had collected herself and somehow it made me feel like I’d reached the end of a good book –or a lovely movie—a soft sadness crept over me.”
“She never goes for the obvious. Her hero puts you in a carriage because that’s what we want---someone to love us like that, to woo us even if our egos or our fear makes us resist…”
She understands Austen, yes, but she also understands the internal structure of the reader and a reader’s connection to sense, place, time and food. Lizzy and Jane’s past experiences are imprinted by Austen and the tireless mechanizations of chemo and loss cannot separate them from that indelible stamp.
Lizzy and Jane may have a beguiling plot with a very Captain Wentworthian undertone ( readers, get thee to a swooning couch near the end) and it may present the lovely idea of crafting culinary experiences specifically for those ravaged by the horrors of chemo, but it is not the plot or the characters that I want to focus on. Rather, I want to say that we are worthy of this book.
Yes we need to thank Katherine Reay; but we also need to thank Thomas Nelson. Readers deserve this fiction.
You can talk all you want about the “state” of Christian fiction, how it “dumbs things down” or crosses lines of accessibility sacrificing its literary intent; but you are wrong when you pit yourself against an artist like Reay.
She is not in the business of writing books. She is in the business of crafting experiences and forcing you to remember, to revel in and to relish the first moment you creaked the spine of a favourite tome and fell into its world.
Read my review of Dear Mr Knightley for Breakpoint