The particular sadness of lemon cake



On the eve of her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein 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.

All at once 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 truth behind her family’s emotions – her mother’s sadness, her father’s detachment and her brother’s clash with the world. But as Rose grows up, she learns that there are some secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.


Much as the book focusses on food, I feel it has to be digested slowly when reading. It’s heavily laden with sensory descriptors and raw, exposing emotion from the characters. The pace is steady throughout and many sentences over-indulge themselves within a scene, noting surroundings, textures, and emotions at great length. It’s definitely a book that’s more hearty meal, than light snack.

Around two thirds of the way in, I personally found the book became a little tedious, and really wanted the plot to pick up a bit. It’s very much a character based novel, so there’s an element of deep reflection throughout, from the way that Rose evaluates her family member’s emotional states, to the lack of speech marks within the dialogue. This works to keep the reader at a distance from the characters, much in the same way they are distanced from one another. We are given the opportunity to empathise with Rose’s struggles and those of her family, and this sensitive look into such troubled characters is one of the strengths of the novel.

I felt there was perhaps a little too much focus placed on Rose’s ability to taste emotion, and that this in itself had a tendency to define her as a character. Where the other characters are concerned, I felt the ending fell a little flat, especially after having read through several years of their lives.

Did I like the novel? I’m not sure. I enjoyed the quality of writing, and the unique concept, but prefer works that offer a little more of a lift at the end.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake



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