The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A subtle but creative novel with a strong message at its heart.

On her ninth birthday Rose Edelstein is delighted to find that her mother has made her a chocolate lemon cake. Unable to resist she takes a slice whilst her mother sleeps only to find the cake tastes of loneliness and hunger; each morsel full of a crippling sadness that Rose quickly identifies as her own mothers feelings. From cookies that taste of anger to roast beef that reveals adultery Rose realizes she has a very special gift that allows her to taste a full and true range of emotions in all of the food she eats.

But for innocent nine-year old Rose the gift is more of a curse, she can’t bear the reality which it forces her to see of the life around her. She can’t avoid the truth of her mother’s life outside of the family home, or her distant fathers abstract attitude anymore than she can ignore he unreachable brother Joseph who constantly clashes with the world.

Unable to escape the feelings in all food Rose opts for the most generic man-made products she can find giving her a strange and painful relationship with her food and a detachment from the real world.

In her attempt to hold together the suffering and troubles of her family Rose seems to remain trapped in time as her friends and peers move on to college, work and marriage. This adds a heavy sadness to the story which develops as the novel wears on and Rose turns from little girl to adult. Thankfully the story still manages to flow naturally and beautifully and the sorrow of the story is broken up with light heart humour and moments of tenderness.

I often struggle with magic realism, not because I don’t like it, far from it, but the writing has to be such that I can accept and digest the unrealistic things that are happening without becoming distracted from the story at hand. With Bender it is so explicit what is magical and what is real that I found it easier to accept the bizarre moments of the book.

Yet not everyone seems quite as comfortable with the story and after reading other reviews it’s become clear that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake has really split opinions and left some readers with a bitter taste in their mouths. Given that I really enjoyed the book it’s hard to understand why others might not have found it so pleasing.

 The book certainly didn’t go in the direction I expected it to and there were times when I wished she had followed a different course. Rose’s gift seems to cripple and block many aspects of her life which I did at times find frustrating. The gift surely could have been just that a gift, an opportunity to help people, to bind her family back together. But then Bender seems to be telling her readers that some family divides cannot be healed, and some differences will mark us indefinitely. Ultimately it is how Rose acts upon her gift which create such an interesting story.

Bender uses this extraordinary metaphor to explore all of the complexities of family lives, the coming of age troubles that we all face, and the way our ultimate loss of innocence creates great divides between our younger selves and who we inevitably become.

For the beautiful message at the heart of the book and for Bender’s unwavering honesty  I have to praise and respect this book. It wasn’t what I thought it would be but in many ways that allowed it to be better.

Love or hate this book I think The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is well worth the read if you like books that intimately explore human nature, the relationships we form and how a families past can mark a person’s future.



11 thoughts on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

  1. It sounds like a very interesting book. The theme is obviously very different to one you’ve read before but have you read any other books you could compare it with? I’m intrigued to read it for myself.

    • Hi Sammy Dee,

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s hard to compare it really because it is so different, I guess the beginning of the novel resonated with books like Room, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime…basically books told from a Childs perspective. It has that naive innocence in the first half which makes the narration so interesting.

      As the novel wears on it becomes even harder to compare because she has such a unique way of story telling. I guess any book with magic realism in it could be compared. If you take God Of Small Things which we’ve both read that had a few elements of magic realism in it but the good thing about this book is you know what is real and what is not. Whereas I didn’t know what was meant to real and what was meant to be made up in GOST.

      Parts of the book did remind me of ‘This Book Will Save your Life’. A novel I love. It’s also set in L.A. and charts one persons journey of self discovery. TPSOLC wasn’t quite like that but it did chart Rose’s journey in life and how she deals with her gift, how it defines her and who she chooses to be.

      I’ll bring my copy to the next book group and you can lend it. I’d be curious to see what you think.

      • A-ha! I thought the name of this novel sounded familar! I already have it on my Kindle! I must have bought ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ a while ago then forgot about it. As I no longer need to borrow it you can lend it to Dave instead. 🙂

        Hmmm, you’ve both recommended ‘This Book Will Save your Life’ so that’s a book I need to get my hands on now. (That and ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Perfume’)

        I still haven’t picked up my copy of ‘The Shadow of the Wind’. I’ve just started ‘On Chesil Beach’ by Ian McEwan instead. (Basically I read through your back-log of reviews from last year and bought a load for my Kindle. lol)

  2. Oh, sounds really good, my type of thing. I didn’t know you liked this book will save your life, I LOVE that book, I bought it everyone I knew one year for Christmas. This sounds great! Only, bender made me laugh – like the robot in futurama. ; )

    • Really?? I love it too. I always recommend it to people but I never know what to say when people ask what it’s about. Obviously the theme is about man having a life and identity crisis but it’s so much more. TPSOL is like that, it’s about a girl who can taste emotions in food but there is a lot more going on.

      I’ve said SammyDee can lend it but I’m sure she wont mind passing it on to you when she’s done?!

      P.S. I know what you mean about the name : )

      • Hi Sammy Dee,

        That’s good news that you already have a copy, do you reckon you’ll read it soon? Dave I’ll bring the copy for you to the next BG.

        Sammy Dee I’ll bring my copy of This Book Will Save Your Life for you to read, I think you’ll like it. On the one hand it’s very sad and hard hitting but on the other it’s a story of hope and it has lots of humour.

        Glad the reviews help 🙂 Hope you like On Chisel Beach, I love that book!

        P.S. Bender is the writer of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

  3. I finished this book last night. I agree that it didn’t go in the direction I hoped it would either and there were times when I too wished the characters would follow a different course. There were lots of conversations I wanted the characters to have so it was frustrating when they didn’t.

    It was an easy and enjoyable read but I came away from it feeling sad. I suppose having ‘Sadness’ in the title should have been a giveaway.

    • Hi Sammy Dee,

      Sounds like you had a similar experience to myself. The blurb and cover made me think it would be quite girly but from the second half onwards I found it was actually a little dark in places. There were times when I wanted to shake the characters and like you say get them to have converstations that they never have. More than anything though I felt frustrated by how her life turned out. Once I realised that the book wouldn’t go the way I had anticipated I started to enjoy it a lot more. I enjoyed reading it but it does leave a sad aftertaste (pardon the rubbish joke : ) )

  4. I loved loved LOVED the book and was rather surprised on the reviews I read by other people. It was so fulfilling – it filled me with regret, warmth and sheer nostalgia at times. I could almost smell the lemon cakes and taste the sadness of it, her language is that powerful. It is easily one of the most satiating books I’ve read.
    Thankyou for a wonderful review.

    • Hi there, thanks for stoppng by! It’s so nice to hear from someone else who appreciates the book! When I first got a copy and read reviews online I was so surprised by the negative comments. Your right, the language is powerful and the emotions really seep out. Have you read her new book, An Invisible Sign Of My Own? I’m half way through and it’s another wonderful read.

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