Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Published: 2009 Pages: 373
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie begins when 11 year old Flavia de Luce (also the narrator) stumbles upon a dead man in the cucumber garden at her home. Found near the dead body is a jack snipe with a stamp stuck through its bill and even more curious is the slice missing from the housekeepers custard pie—a pie which none in Flavia’s family would dare consume. Though inspectors are working to solve the murder, Flavia takes it upon herself to solve the mystery on her own. But with each bit of unraveling Flavia manages, the mystery becomes more and more tangled until she’s not sure what’s what anymore. Also of note—set in 1950s UK.
What I liked about the book: More accurately, who I loved: Flavia de Luce. Though she’s only 11, she’s a spunky, precocious, imaginative, quirky, loveable little firecracker. I’ve seen some criticism that Flavia doesn’t act her age—that perhaps she acts a little bit older than 11. There is no question that Flavia is mature for her age—perhaps because of her older sisters Feely and Daffy or the manner in which she was raised by her parent(s)—but Flavia doesn’t let us forget for long that she is at heart just a kid. She speaks her mind with fierce innocence, makes assumptions and acts upon impulse, she plays mean tricks on her older sisters, but it’s tough not to admire her brilliance as well as her childishness.
What else? For me there was little I didn’t like about this book. Actually, the only thing that I can think of is that it ended too quickly—and not in the hasty wrap-up or loose endings kind of way—but in the way that I just wanted to continue reading about Flavia’s adventures. I read this book rather quickly (during the readathon), so I have a feeling there are several little nuances and plot bits that I missed—some of the transitions between scenes seemed jumpy, but this was probably due to my quick reading.
Next to Flavia, what I loved about this book was the writing. Bradley’s writing is clever and quick, punchy and to the point (Flavia is the narrator afterall). I was totally swept up into the story and was only pulled out by my alarm telling me it was time to go cheerlead. I laughed out loud, I had my heartstrings tugged at, I was absorbed in the mystery and eager to know more, I was interested, engaged, enthralled, and above all else I was allowed to use my brain but not in an exhausting way. Perhaps if I had read this one slower I’d have more criticisms, but not today. Isn’t that a nice feeling?
Bottom Line: Given my current reading (Brothers Karamozov mostly, Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud on the side), this book was a refreshing delight. In fact, when I finished it during the readathon and turned to EC&IC (which I’m loooooooving), I still wanted to be reading about Flavia’s adventures. Normally I “savor” works by authors—I have a fear about reading through an author too quickly and then having nothing left to read by them—but I have a strong desire to pick up The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag immediately and read it immediately. Though I know the latter is just a wishful thought. I certainly recommend The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie—a reading delight with an unpretentious literary touch.