Rose has never stood out. At school, she has just the one friend. At home, her father is loving, but distant, unable to fully interact with his children. Her brother Joe removes himself from as much of life as possible, preferring to be alone with his scientific formulas. Her mother is like a hummingbird, flitting from one interest to another, always in motion.
When she is nine, her mother, who loves to cook, makes Rose a chocolate lemon cake. The taste of the ingredients are there, but Rose is shaken to discover that what she inexplicably finds is:
"...the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache..."She tries to explain to her mother, the school nurse and the doctor - and it's all brushed away with reasonable explanations. The only one who does take her seriously is her brother's only friend George.It's not a one time occurrence. Rose now tastes the feelings and emotions in any and all foods. She is able to identify the origins of any ingredient. She survives by mostly eating mass produced junk food from the school vending machine.
When she is twelve, she tastes a secret in her mother's dinner - one she doesn't want to know.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is utterly original and absolutely captivating. It's the story of Rose - a character I fell in love with. Her attempts to understand what is happening, her acceptance of it and efforts to have a regular life all tugged at me. But it's also the exploration of dysfunctional family relationships. Joe frightened me and I found his part of the story somewhat disturbing. Dad was a sad, touching character. Mom - well, I know she loved her children, but I just couldn't warm up to her at all. well. I really enjoyed the characters introduced at the end and think there's a story there as well.
I think readers are either going to love this book or hate it - the magical realism may turn some readers off. You have to suspend disbelief to become fully immersed in the story. I loved it - it reminded me of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time crossed with Addison's The Sugar Queen.
Read an excerpt of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. A friend of mine is discussing this one for her book club - here's the discussion guide.