Rosie's Reviews > The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
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's review
Apr 26, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: owned, fantasy, fiction, magical-realism
Read from June 28 to July 01, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Favourite Quote: "To see someone you love, in a bad setting, is one of the great barometers of gratitude."

This book is very strange. I knew it would be when I read the blurb, but I think I under-estimated just how mind-bendingly odd the premise is. The story is told from the viewpoint of Rose Edelstein, a quiet and unassuming girl, who, the night before her ninth birthday, discovers that she can taste her mother’s emotions in a slice of homemade lemon-chocolate cake. To Rose’s horror, her seemingly cheery mother tastes of despair. This new-found ability of Rose’s as a “food psychic” gives her an unwelcome insight into the lives of those she is closest to and, as she learns more about her family’s secrets, Rose becomes more and more troubled throughout her journey into adulthood.

I’ve never read a magical realism book before, which is probably why it took me so long to adjust. The way Bender weaves the magic element of Rose’s relationship with food into the real-world isn’t exactly seamless and I did find myself wanting to put this book down a few times. However, as the story progressed and Rose grew up a bit, I found myself being drawn into the story of this extremely dysfunctional family and wanting to know more about their secrets and what made them all tick.

Joseph, Rose’s brother, particularly interested me, mostly because he barely featured for most of the book. I wondered why. I felt decidedly uneasy whenever anything was said about him and I had a feeling something big was going to happen involving him at some point. I wasn’t wrong, but I could not have anticipated what did actually happen to Joseph, the reclusive genius, the mother’s favourite. I won’t spoil it.

Rose’s mother and father barely speak. The mother irritated me even though I think we are supposed to feel sorry for her because of what Rose tastes in her food early on in the book. I didn’t, I thought she was an airhead and I wasn’t surprised when Rose discovered that she had begun an affair with a work colleague. Tart. I barely had an opinion of the father, which I liked because it made him seem as distant and unreachable to me as he does to his family.

I think the reason this book worked for me is that, despite the strange premise and a couple of unlikeable characters, Bender was able to successfully illuminate the way we stumble through our lives without realising how our actions are impacting others. She didn’t do this in an obvious way; she did this using the magic of Rose’s ability. When her ability first comes to light, Rose freaks out and her mother rushes her to hospital instead of addressing the possibility that her own emotions are being passed on to her children. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the only people who believe in Rose’s talent are the well-adjusted individuals who are well aware of their behaviour and its effects on the world around them.

I enjoy books with a moral and I like them to be a little different. This book was a LOT different and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction but a little bored of it. The ending is even stranger than the beginning.

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Reading Progress

06/28/2011 page 115

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