Sunday, May 22, 2011


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender
I’ve tried not to give too much away of the plot.  If in doubt, don’t read.

If you read my last Etcetera you’ll know how much I had anticipated the arrival of this book. But having heard whisperings of it - something a little strange and weird - I hesitantly turned each page.  Something disquieting was happening and I was soon to realize that the quirky title and light-hearted cover design belied the wistful story inside. 

Rose, 9 years old, is given a slice of lemon cake her mother has baked.   That is when she discovers she has a gift – she is able to taste and feel the emotions of the person who made the food.  In her mother’s case, the tastes she feels are ones of upset, distance and hollowness.  My mother’s hands had made the cake … but she was not there, in it.  From then on, eating food becomes a huge burden for Rose and as she ages we follow her journey through her feelings and thoughts about her gift; her relationships with her family; her school girl crush on her brother’s friend; to her awareness and an eventual kind of acceptance. 
Rose is a believable and likeable character.  She shows maturity way beyond her years and in spite of her gift appears to be the only “normal” one in her family.  Her parents and brother are less well drawn.  Perhaps this is intended to highlight their self-absorption and withdrawal from each other. Rose tries to anchor the family together, reassuring her mother and keeping secrets; trying to find a common bond with her father and to connect with her brother.  But in the end Rose must make her own way in life and find a way to live with her gift.
So far so good, but when the novel moves its focus to Rose’s brother, Joseph, it takes off in a different direction, one that I just found weird and not in any way as convincing as the first part of the book. The reason for Joe’s disappearances was confusing (I had to go back and reread it to see if I’d missed something).  It wasn’t satisfactorily explained. From this point, I felt less interested in the outcome and the remainder of the read was perfunctory.
If you ask me whether I liked it, I’ll tell you that I don’t know.  It was not what I expected, for sure. I can only say that it was a beautiful, melancholy read for the most part but overall it left me unfulfilled. The writing was beautiful and Rose’s childhood and teenage experiences were utterly convincing but in the end it was just a little too weird. I would still say read it – many people have loved this book.  I wanted to love it too.  I just didn’t.

A Family in Paris – Stories of food, life and adventure
Jane Paech

And so from kicking leaves to skipping through them, I picked up this book.  A memoir from Australian, Jane Paech, of observations, stories and anecdotes of the joys and maddening frustrations of living in Paris, this book was so enjoyable and amusing.  One of the delights of Paris is discovering what’s in each shop window or around each corner and so it is with this book.  Beautiful design and layout, great photos, easy, intelligent writing and thoughtful inclusions of her favourite places, this book will either make you want to go there or return.  I’m already making my list.

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