To be honest, I just didn’t ‘get’ this book at all. In fact, it was so frustrating that I hunted down an online web chat with the author, to see if she herself could shed a light on the mysteries of ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’.
Rose Edelstein has a peculiar gift. She can taste in her food the emotions of the person who prepared it. This insight turns out to be rather a curse, as mealtimes lose all their pleasure and she discovers that her mother is hiding a secret. Rose also has a brother, Joseph who is, frankly, a bit weird. He begins to undergo unexplained disappearances, withdrawing for varying periods of time and then re-appearing. When he fails to achieve a place at his preferred university, he moves into a flat on his own and eventually vanishes altogether. Only he hasn’t actually vanished. Joseph has morphed into a chair. In case you think you have read that wrongly, I repeat – Rose’s brother turns into a chair.
My main frustration with the book (apart from the lack of speech marks) is that Rose’s family’s so-called talents are completely pointless. The knowledge Rose gains is not put to any use, either good or bad, it merely seems to be a strange strand to an otherwise fairly ordinary American teenager’s diary. The premise of the book is exciting, but the book just doesn’t deliver. It felt as if the author could see an idea in her imagination, but can’t convey her vision clearly. If it is intended as ‘magical realism’, it’s rather skimpy in the ‘magical’ department.
So, how does Aimee Bender explain her work? Turns out she couldn’t really, claiming that she liked the ambiguity of the ending: ‘I’m not really sure what [Joseph’s] gift was’. A deeply unsatisfying read, which I probably would have discarded half-way through if it wasn’t for not wanting to waste the time I’d invested thus far!