I love those times of year when one of my family buys me a book that I've never heard of and I go on to discover a new author and a completely different type of novel. That's what happened with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. I believe it was a Richard and Judy Book Choice in 2011 and I can't help wondering if it would have reached as many readers otherwise.
This is an astonishing novel, both in construction and content. Rose Edelstein's mother bakes her a lemon-chocolate cake for her 9th birthday and as soon as Rose bites into the slice of cake, she discovers an overwhelming 'gift' that will plague the rest of her life. For Rose can taste every emotion that goes into the baking and cooking of food - any food, anywhere. And with that gift comes the knowledge that her mother, father and brother are dealing with their own particular problems.
Not quite as linear as some novels, it often dips into different scenes in Rose's life and the dialogue has no enclosing quote marks, yet I was never confused about who is speaking. The beautiful writing and magic-realism qualities of the novel are a joy to read, while Rose's own journey into adulthood is often amusing, wise and poignant. The almost non-existent relationship with her strange brother who disappears at intervals culminates in a touching revelation that only Rose will ever understand.
Although it might divide readers' opinions, I have the feeling this is one book that will remain in the mind far longer than usual, and it's one which I'll want to read again with even more understanding and appreciation.