Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

I had heard of the popularity of this book and was looking for a riveting book to bring along to camp. Alas, I didn't get far in this before putting it down to read again after returning home (this was partly because the book was too big to carry around all day in my bag).

I wish that I liked this book more. It feels like the last few books have held great promise, with interesting premises, but failed to fully deliver on the possibilities available. This was certainly true of the concept behind this book.

Rose Edelstein arrives home a few days before her ninth birthday to discover that her mother has baked a lemon cake with chocolate icing (hmm ... can't even seem to get to what that would taste like ... lemon and chocolate??). Within the first few bites, she realizes that she has stepped into an alternate reality because she can actually taste her mother's emotions within the cake. This mother of hers, who loves her children intensely, serves up an unwieldy desperation and emptiness.

At this point, I felt hopeful. I myself am at a place in life where mothering often leaves me desperately empty, a raw hollow shell of the person I once was. Thus, I thought that I would really latch onto this narrative and enjoy the discoveries Rose makes. But, apart from her mother's deep ache and a few test subjects (a bakery experiment), Rose tends to avoid her "special gift" and seek instead to understand the unique gifts of her other family members (her detached, oblivious father and her anti-social, brilliant brother).

I continued reading, hoping it would offer up some deeper wisdom about life. There was none to be had. It dissolved into pointless explanations of how Rose could tell the location each ingredient came from and the emotions of the growers, etc. The special skill almost became tedious instead of illuminating.

My biggest complaint had to be the difficulty of trying to read through a book where conventional structure is thrown aside. The text of this novel fails to provide any quotation marks. Thus, the reader has to work extra hard to follow the tale because they must decipher where the quotation marks would have been.

Sadly, I doubt I would recommend this book. While the premise is interesting, it doesn't lead to any great insight or understanding of life or the world (apart from the fact that every family holds secrets and fully knowing the emotions of another, when those emotions are supposed to be veiled, is dangerous). Alas, I am suffering from the particular sadness of wasting time on a book that just didn't really deliver what it could have.

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