Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

sweetnessThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press

384 pages

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (to be referred to as TSatBotP from now on!), by Alan Bradley, is the story of Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist growing up in England in the 1950s.  Her family is somewhat eccentric—Flavia’s mother has been dead for years and her father is a recluse.  Flavia has two older sisters—Ophelia and Daphne—but she is the black sheep of the family and spends equal time being tormented or ignored by her sisters.  Flavia hold her own against her sisters though (you have never met a character like Flavia, that much I can promise!).  Her chemistry skills come in handy when it comes to seeking revenge against her sisters.  The way she one ups Ophelia was ingenious.

The crux of the story involves the death of a man found in the garden at the de Luce estate.  Flavia discovers the dead man in the middle of the night, only hours after she spied on the man arguing with her father in her father’s study.  The man’s identity and cause of death are unknown and Flavia is determined to uncover the truth before the police force uncovers all the answers for themselves.

Flavia is certainly one of the most sassy and entertaining protagonists that I have ever come across.  TSatBotP can thank her for its success because she really carried the story.  Had the protagonist been someone older with a little more maturity and rationale, the story would have fell flat.  Instead, I found myself giggling incessantly at some of the things she would say or do.  The following excerpt, from page 49, is a great example of Flavia’s character.

It was at this very moment that Mrs Mullet pushed open the door with her ample bottom, and waddled into the room with a loaded tray.  “I’ve brought you some nice seed biscuits,” she said . . . Seed biscuits and milk!  I hated Mrs Mullet’s seed biscuits the way Saint Paul hated sin.  Perhaps even more so.  I wanted to clamber up onto the table, and with a sausage on the end of my fork like a sceptor, shout in my best Laurence Olivier voice, “Will no one rid us of this turbulent pastry cook?”

If that doesn’t crack you up, I don’t know what will!

I was reading an interview on Amazon where Alan Bradley spoke of Flavia and how she was created.penny_black

Q: Flavia certainly is an interesting character. How did you come up with such a forceful, precocious and entertaining personality?

AB: Flavia walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story. I was actually well into this other book–about three or four chapters–and as I introduced a main character, a detective, there was a point where he was required to go to a country house and interview this colonel.

I got him up to the driveway and there was this girl sitting on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil and he stopped and asked her what she was doing and she said “writing down license number plates“ and he said “well there can’t be many in such a place“ and she said, “well I have yours, don’t I? “ I came to a stop. I had no idea who this girl was and where she came from.

She just materialized. I can’t take any credit for Flavia at all. I’ve never had a character who came that much to life. I’ve had characters that tend to tell you what to do, but Flavia grabbed the controls on page one. She sprung full-blown with all of her attributes–her passion for poison, her father and his history–all in one package. It surprised me.

I find his answer so intriguing.  It makes sense really, because Flavia is such a forceful, realistic character—what other way could she be created?

Another pro to having an eleven year old protagonist in a book like this is that the reader is never sure whether to trust Flavia or not.  She is very bright for an eleven year old, but she still is an eleven year old.  With every hunch she had, I questioned whether she was on the right track or whether her ideas were overly hyperbolic.  In that way, the ending was even more enlightening.

I read TSatBotP in one day.  I spent hours with it and never once grew bored or restless.  It’s just a great story, not to mention that it is a great departure from most books, and therefore ends up being a taste of something different.  This is Bradley’s first published book, which shocked me.  The story was so neatly woven and flowed so well that I would have thought I was reading something by a more seasoned novelist.  Bottom line: all the good things you’ve heard about this book recently are well founded.  Read it!

Other reviews:

Stainless Steel Droppings

Lesa’s Book Critiques

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

On my Bookshelf

Medieval Bookworm

Word Lily

Ms Bookish

My Cozy Book Nook

I’m Booking It

I apologize, but there are way too many reviews of this book to list.  However, if you have reviewed this book please leave a link in the comments section and I’ll be happy to link to your review.

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9 Responses

  1. I am reading this now and loving it. I’m already looking forward to reading the next book.

  2. I’m ALMOST to the top of library’s list for this one! Can’t wait!

  3. Thanks for the interview information– I can see Flavia hijacking a story!

    My review is at http://imbookingit.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/the-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie/

  4. It’s been on my list for a while now…sounds like it might be a good read-a-thon choice.

  5. Oh, I love a book that makes me giggle out loud!

  6. I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while. I haven’t heard anyone say a bad word about it. I really hope I find a copy soon.

  7. […] 2009 by reviewsbylola This week has been a bit slow for me.  Last Sunday I spent all day reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I very rarely get the chance to read an entire book in one day, so that was awesome.  Since […]

  8. […] The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley […]

  9. […] Reviews by Lola – “Bottom line: all the good things you’ve heard about this book recently are well founded” […]

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