Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

It was a review at A Bookworm's World that first made me want to read Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, mostly because Luanne calls it "Harriet the spy for grownups." And when I got around to reading it, I was delighted to find that the 11-year-old heroine, Flavia de Luce, does occasionally remind me of my favorite 11-year-old heroine, Harriet: "I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did." I wouldn't call either Flavia or Harriet unreliable narrators, exactly, but part of the charm of their first-person narration is the fallibility of some of their observations--not because they're not intelligent enough to interpret what they're seeing, but because they're both only eleven, and don't necessarily have enough context yet to recognize everything they're seeing for what it is: "whenever she was thinking about Ned, Feely played Schumann. I suppose that's why they call it romantic music."

Flavia does not fancy herself a spy, but takes the part of Janie in terms of her hobby (she's a chemist). Her spying is part of her curious nature; when she discovers a body in the garden, she takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of how it got there, and along the way, she shows her intense loyalty to her reticent family circle. She gets around on her bike, which she calls Gladys, and she is tolerated and given considerable free rein by the Inspector assigned to the case, who gets to recite the lines of poetry from which the title is derived and politely declines to tell Flavia why the symbol for her in his notes is a "P."

Although Flavia figures out that the murdered man died from an injection of carbon tetrachloride just from smelling his last breath, she misses the fact that her family's cook knows no one in the family likes custard pie and so she makes one occasionally to take home to her own husband. Like the cook in Harriet the Spy, Mrs. Mullet doesn't always have enough patience to deal with the resident child genius, and when she laughs at Flavia, even Flavia is aware that "something in me that was less than noble rose up out of the depths, and I was transformed in the blink of an eye into Flavia the Pigtailed Avenger." That she can see herself this way indicates some potential for either increasing egalitarianism or noblesse oblige as she gets older.

In the end, Flavia figures out the mystery, although she has to have some help capturing the murderer. And this is only the first of her adventures; Bradley promises a series of mysteries featuring Flavia.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

That sounds like fun. I may have to track this one down for my vacation.

Jeanne said...

"Harriet," how can you possibly resist?

Cschu said...

I really liked this book. I will definitely be looking for further sweetness at the bottom of the pie in the subsequent Flavia adventures.

Luanne said...

Jeanne, I'm so glad you enjoyed it!! I too can't wait for the next in the series.