Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a Review

Flavia de Luce is a complex little girl. Uncannily bright for an eleven year old, I daresay to the point where one must suspend disbelief, even, Flavia spends her days "playing" in her laboratory, creating terrible concoctions for her terrorizing older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. The young chemist has a particular fondness for poisons, and when a dead body turns up in the cucumber patch of Buckshaw, Flavia decides to get to the bottom of the mystery.

What follows is a delightful adventure with a protagonist that's hard to forget. Flavia is both endearing for her strong will and pitiable for her too-advanced mind. She's sweet (usually when it's to her advantage), witty, well-read, far too clever, and hilarious. Her environs--1950s England--are masterfully detailed and the reader cannot help but feel whisked away.

Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is well outside my normal genres. A mystery novel with various mysteries throughout, I heartily enjoyed puzzling through the book with Flavia. The tale wasn't too complex, and everything clearly made sense by the end. There were twists and turns a-plenty, and I can imagine nearly every reader would enjoy the plot & pacing.

A large part of the joy from this read is the fact that Bradley's prose is beautiful. The voice of the narrator is spot-on (as much as I can imagine the mind of an eleven year old girl), and from the start I easily slipped inside Flavia's head. Bradley's cast of characters is well suited to the story (if not a touch cliched), and I really enjoyed Flavia's sisters. Their antagonism of poor Flavia (and vice versa) was a highlight of the read.

I listened to the audio version of this book, as read by Jayne Entwistle, and this was possibly one of the best audio books I've ever read. The voice acting was vastly superior to many audio books, and Entwistle sounds exactly like a bratty little 11 year old would. Of course, the British-ness also makes this a fun listen-to, but it's definitely the narrator that shines. In fact, I enjoyed her reading so much that I played a bit of it for my wife, just so she could hear how great it was.

Two final notes, just in case you're not convinced of reading the book yet. One, it's quite funny. Flavia has a way with words that had me cracking up regularly. Two, Carl's review at Stainless Steel Droppings' and L's at Omphaloskepsis paint a much better review than I do, and just read their praise to see what I'm talking about.

If you're looking for a good mystery (I say good, but alas, with little experience with the genre I guess), Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will definitely satisfy your appetite. It's one of those books that puts a smile on your face and keeps it there after you're finished. I easily recommend to anyone, but especially people with a fondness for old Britain, young & clever heroines, stamp collectors, and mystery enthusiasts.


contemplatrix said...

a brilliant capture, Logan. I enjoyed this review immensely and was very glad you enjoyed the Sweetness. and you have me curious to hear the audio-version.


logankstewart said...

Yes, definitely check out the audio version for this book, or the sequels (assuming it's the same narrator). Highly enjoyable.

Carl V. said...

This is the second positive comment I've heard of the audio version of this book. When the time comes for me to re-read these I may just track down the audio from my library.

I hope you continue on with the next two volumes (the fourth comes out in November) as the stories just get better and better and the real mystery, that of the de Luce family, just deepens. Very good stuff.

I am so glad you enjoyed it. These novels, like their protagonist, are a real delight.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: I really cannot give justice to how fantastic the narrator was for the audio version. Definitely look into these whenever you revisit the series.

I plan to progress through Bradley's novels, just not sure when.