Whether you are going to like this novel or not is totally reliant on how you respond to the narrator: the titular Flavia de Luce, almost eleven years old, budding chemist and thoroughly precocious. I found her totally delicious! Her constant plotting of revenge on her older sisters is a clever device that reminds us that Flavia is really only a child. But a child with an over active imagination, not to mention an unhealthy interest in poisons.
Bradley has an unapologetic nostalgia for England in the 1950s, and has penned a novel in 2009 that has all the sensibilities of a novel written in the fifties. It contains all the usual tropes: a crumbling family estate, a motherless child, a mysterious body found in the garden of said country home, inept police, etc, etc.
Just when you think Flavia is behaving in a manner too mature by far, she reverts to being a little girl, worried for her father and struggling without the warmth of a mother’s love. When she hears her father tell a lie, she says ‘…suddenly, without warning, somewhere inside me, a little thread broke. It felt as if I had just aged a little and something old had snapped.’
The novel made me laugh out loud with some of its descriptions, for example: ‘The finely curved legs of a Queen Anne wash-stand seemed almost indecent beside the gloomy Gothic bed in the corner, as if some sour old chamberlain were looking on dyspeptically as his mistress unfurled silk stockings over her long, youthful legs.’ Delightful!
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie would fall comfortably into the cosy crime genre. However, it is also extremely witty and will keep you totally entertained until the last page. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gaby Meares
Mystery and Crime Reading Group