Sunday, 17 April 2011
Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents' attention, bites into her mother's homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother's emotions in the slice. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother - her cheerful, can-do mother - tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes perilous. Anything can be revealed at any meal. Rose's gift forces her to confront the secret knowledge all families keep hidden - truths about her mother's life outside the home, her father's strange detachment and her brother's clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up, she realises there are some secrets that even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the heartbreak of loving those whom you know too much about. It is profound and funny, wise and sad, and Aimee Bender's dazzling prose illuminates the strangeness of everyday life.
First of all, what a title! It instantly piques the interest and intrigues ... but overall the story falls a little short of it's promise. This is a thoughtful tale of Rose, who can taste people's feelings through their cooking. The writing is gentle and flowing and the premise thought provoking - but what a burden to have to bear! Poor Rose discovers things she really doesn't want to know, and how awful would it be to be unable to enjoy food simply for what it is?!
I think this book suffered a little from lack of plot development. Rose as a character does not really develop through the story until the very end, and the whole mystery of Joseph's "special skill" is perhaps just a bit too bizarre and pointless. The conclusion felt rushed and sudden, and quite unsatisfying.
All this is not say I didn't enjoy the book - I did. But I think Aimee Bender missed a trick ... with a little more tweaking of the plot, this could have been an amazing and unusual read. As it is, it is just a bit strange.
My rating: 3/5