Thursday, February 10, 2011

CB #8 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
 I love a good mystery, especially one by Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie. They both wrote ridiculously British mysteries with oddball detectives, and if it’s one by Sayers, then you learn about something completely unrelated like the architecture of Oxford University, or about the complexities of bell ringing. Sayers translated Dante so I’m certain that she’s researched  the facts that she presents. I think that Bradley was aiming for something along the same lines (even if he's Canadian). This mystery was supposed to teach me about chemistry, stamps and a certain period in British history, and maybe it did. Mainly, I just wanted to punch Flavia in the face. However, since the police detective seemed to feel the same way, maybe that was the point.
  Sweetness is set in 1950’s Britain in a small town that is very like Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead. Flavia is the youngest of three daughters (the other two are Orphelia and Daphne), living in a grand old (decaying) house with her father. Her mother died in Flavia is extremely precocious. Her obsession is chemistry, poisons in fact, and she spends most of her time terrorizing and being terrorized by her sisters. One day, a dead bird ends up on their doorstep with a stamp in its beak. The next morning Flavia watches a man die in her garden. Now she has to solve the mystery, or her father could be charged with murder.
                I’m confused about how I feel about this book. On one hand, I enjoyed the 1950’s setting and I liked the writing style. There was a richness to it that I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed the way the sisters plot against each other. On the other hand, I found Flavia to be a bit too precocious. She felt unreal. I might have believed it if she was a bit older, or a bit younger and had a less strong vocabulary, but she felt like a character in a book, and not like a real person.  As well, I didn’t feel the urgency of the mystery, though I know that Flavia did. I guess that this is just a case of a disconnection to the book. I know lots of other people loved it, so it might just be me.

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