There’s a cake on the table.
I’ll just have a sliver,
a few crumbs…
There’s a cake on the table.
Except now it looks more like a carcass.
When she was a little girl, Ophelia found a charred piece of wood in the corner of her room. It stained her fingers with carbon, and she wondered what else it would stain. She wrote the wave function of the universe with that piece of charcoal, on her bedroom floor.
On the first day of the Exeter Literary Festival, I was delighted to take part in Exeter’s first Haiku Slam. In the first round, I performed Je Suis Un Short-Arse, but for the second round, we were tasked with writing a brand new haiku using a prompt given by the audience on the night – that prompt being ‘ecological supermarkets’. In the half an hour or so which we had to compose, I wrote the following haiku. Enjoy!
Welcome. We are the
greenest supermarket. Look!
Our walls are chartreuse.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is one of those novels that’s more of an experience than a story. The events of the narrative take place over more than a decade, which, like The Graveyard Book, allows for seamless transition between plot-relevant events while skipping over those that would serve as nothing more than filler.
Like quite a lot of books that I have read, it took me a few chapters to get into. The chapters vary in length throughout the book, but they are usually short at the beginning of the novel; the kind of length that you could easily pick the book up and put it down again when you’re busy.
The first thing that struck me was that the dialogue is not in speech marks. This, admittedly, made me a little wary; the last book I read which made this decision, The Night Swimmer, has proved one of my least favourite books, and that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was following in the same philosophy had me a little on edge. That there is no punctuation separating the dialogue from the narrative can make parts of the novel difficult to follow, but now that I have finished the book I realise that this adds to the confusion Bender is trying to evoke; the protagonist, Rose, is confused by her abilities, and we are also left a little bewildered by the events as they unfold, viewing them as we do through Rose’s eyes.
The first ‘part’ of the book (for the book is divided into parts and then into chapters) follows Rose when she is under ten. The narrative style, written in the first person from Rose’s point of view, serves this perspective well. One highlight for me was the honest and real descriptions of mental health, described as they only can be through the eyes of a child. That being said, the prose is poetic, which, while gorgeously crafted, can sometimes feel unnecessary and pretentious.
The middle section of this book, however, where the plot shifts to focus on Rose’s brother, Joseph, is utterly compelling. It was during this section that I found it difficult to put the book down, desperate as I was to find out what was going on. I would have to say that Joseph is undoubtedly my favourite character, especially considering that Rose’s character development leaves her rather unlikable by the last page (though this is by no means indicative of bad development; much like Kvothe from The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, I find Rose to be excellently developed as an unlikable character).
By the end of the book, I was left flagging a little, only to be picked up by the thought-provoking last line, which has stayed with me. The entire plot feels as though it was leading up to that last line, much like the last line of Cloud Atlas.
All in all, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought and perhaps hoped I would. I’d say that this is another case of a book that I am glad I have read once, but I would not revisit. That being said, I think there is worth in reading this book once, and would recommend it for fans of literary fiction.