Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
by Alan Bradley
Mystery, Historical Fiction
4.5 of 5 stars
It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” - from Goodreads
I don't read many mysteries, and must confess that the "mystery" is usually the least interesting part of the story for me, so I was surprised to find myself happily reading Flavia's ruminations. I can attribute this only to the awesomeness that is Flavia de Luce. She is indefatigable. (Ha! Never thought I'd actually use that silly word!) She is refreshing. And precocious is not the right word for her. (But I'll discuss that later.) If it wasn't Flavia solving this mystery, I would have not cared a wit. But it was!
I loved how she tormented her sisters.
Quote alert: "I found a dead body in the cucumber patch,' I told them.
How very like you,' Ophelia said, and went on preening her eyebrows."
I loved her drive and curiosity and spunk and chutzpah and independence. I love that she was rarely scared and always had a plan. I love that she named her bike and treated it like a horse. I loved her love of chemistry and poison. I loved her allusions and well-read-ed-ness. She was amusing. She was bubbling under that surface all the time, and yet so very....English on the outside.
Quote....right now: "Anyone who knew the word slattern was worth cultivating as a friend."
I don't have my book on hand to look up other things that tickled my fancy. Dang it. But I loved that she loved herself, even though she thought no one else did. How refreshing among all the characters out there who struggle for any personal sense of worth!
Now, about the writing. Yummy. A winking fest of happy meaning-rich words and allusions. I found I couldn't read it as rapidly as I normally do. I must have been wallowing.
My one caveat? The reason this isn't a glowing 5 star rating? Well, as much as I loved Flavia, she isn't a believable 11 year old. Qualifier: isn't a believable 11 year old all of the time. Sometimes she reeks of eleven-ity. Her response to a dead person, her petty revenge, her occasional naivete, her energy and creativity...all were very 11. But I just couldn't swallow the depth of her chemistry, literature, and music knowledge. But I mentioned I loved it, you squawk?! I did. I do. I forgave her. I moved past it. I don't really care. You might, but I made my peace. Perhaps she is a prodigy. Perhaps she is writing this looking back. Whatev.
I enjoyed nearly every moment of this novel. Highly recommend.