The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The first thing to say about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is that it has a great title. It’s evocative and intriguing, the rhythm is good and is the sort of title that makes me wish I had a talent for titling things.

At the age of nine Rose discovers she can taste emotions in the food she eats. If it is manufactured food she can tell all the layers that contributed to creating it. If it is homemade she can taste how the person who made it was feeling. She finds that people around her feel things that they don’t display on the surface and she struggles to work out a way to manage it.

Rose’s brother Joseph is quiet and reclusive. As he reaches his late teens he starts to disappear in mysterious ways. Their mother is frantic and their father is distant. Eventually Joseph disappears and doesn’t come back. Rose feels she can’t move out now, but gradually she finds a way to use her gift and have a life of her own.

It’s an easy read but the title really is the best thing about it. The powers that Rose and her brother have are not explained until the end when their father reveals that his father had a similar power. I found this element of the book unsatisfying. I could have accepted any number of causes had an effort been made to provide one.

The description of the emotions in the food could have been richer and more detailed. I thought that they were flat and I found them disappointing. What I did like was the concept; it’s an interesting idea. The execution didn’t do it justice and didn’t live up to the title.

I wasn’t keen on the writing style, even acknowledging that anything read after Babel Tower would suffer by comparison, and I found it difficult to engage with the characters. It was not so bad that I couldn’t finish it but I would certainly avoid anything else by this author.

2 thoughts on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

  1. That book's premise would pull me inI've heard of some autistic people also saying they can taste emotions from food. So strange.Sounds like you don't think the author pulled it off, though.

  2. Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. I like the idea and I think it could make a really interesting story. I don't think the author pulled it off – or, at least, she didn't tell the version of the story I wanted to read.

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