I’ve been meaning to write this review for months and yet every time I start to think about what to say I get blocked and nothing comes out. And I have no idea why.
I loved Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It’s a fun romp of a mystery with sufficiently eccentric English gentry in that seemingly innocent period between the First and Second World Wars. The plot twists and turns towards the big reveal, which itself is wonderfully eccentric and twisted. I’d even rate it a 4 out of 5.
So why the problem reviewing it?
Personally I think it’s the main character’s fault. She’s a contrary little thing and is therefore most certainly doing her best not to be pinned down by my review. “She” in this case is Flavia de Luce, one of those offbeat adults in a child’s body that only seem to appear in fiction. And given that the book’s a mystery, Flavia discovers a dead body and while still taking time to torment her older sisters, she does what no adult can do – solve the crime.
But I’ve figured out how to talk about her. You see, she’s a science freak, specifically chemistry. Although this review has nothing to do with chemistry, if I apply a scientific framework to my review, she just might let me talk about her.
So this is my experiment.
It is my hypothesis that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.
While there is no straightforward scientific measurement of literary merit, I’ve decided to adopt the parameters of a good book as proposed by Gav from GavReads. The parameters are broken into three categories: Basics, Ideally, and Bonus. It is my belief that the failure of this book occurs in the Basics section, thus limiting the posibility of the rest of the series getting downloaded onto my Kindle.
Data – Basics:
Caring about the characters: While I most certainly would hate Flavia, her sisters, the servants and her father in real life, I adore them as fictional characters. They’re pretentious, precocious, obnoxious and as many other ious-es that you may wish to add. While this doesn’t make for good like-able people, it does create wonderfully rich and complex characters.
Getting to the end: As soon as Flavia introduced herself on the first page, she had me hooked. The strength of her personality dragged me through to the end of the book. Interruptions in my reading time irritated me and when I saw the murder wrapping itself up, I wanted to put on the brakes and slow it down. I didn’t want to leave Flavia’s world.
Wanting to read the next book in the series: Given what I’d written above, the logical response to this category would be “Yes! Give me more!” and it wasn’t. Again, I blame Flavia herself. The force of her personality is so overwhelming, I’m not sure how long it could be sustained in a series. In one book it was delightful, but at some point I might tire of it and find her annoying, which is something I never want to do. Hence my desire to keep her as I found her in the first book.
Data – Ideally:
Remembering what you’ve read weeks or months after you’ve read it: You bet! Flavia’s chemical revenge on her vain older sister is a delight and I wish I had thought of something like that to avenge myself on my brother years ago.
To choose to read the book over doing other things: Most definitely. As I said, Flavia took over my life for a while and I hated to be parted from her.
Data – Bonus:
What you’ve read changes your world view in some dramatic or subtle way: The book even provided me with this bonus, but not in an expected way. Flavia, with her too-strong personality, has warned me that some characters can be too larger-than-life. They can cause too strong of an impression that anything following after runs the risk of being a disappointment. An excellent lesson as I create my own fictional characters.
By applying the above parameters to my reading experience, I believe that I have clearly demonstrated that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.