In which poison, high-stakes stamp collecting, and murders at British mansions are not nearly as interesting as they may sound
Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
What it’s about: Alan Bradley’s first book in what will be a series of mysteries features the precocious 11-year-old Flavia, an amateur chemist living in a British manor house and trying to clear her father’s name after an old school chum of his is found dead in the cucumber patch. Unfortunately, this description is far more exciting than the delivery in the book, and maybe that’s how we got suckered into choosing it for our April book club. I’d seen Sweetness in a lot of table promotions at B&N and the story sounded engaging, what I hoped would be a sort of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo lite. The reality is more Nancy Drew. Flavia de Luce (pretentious names much?) is not nearly as clever as I hoped she’d be and the mystery isn’t very interesting. It was honestly a struggle for me to get through this book. Normally, I abandon books if I can’t get into them, but I have trudged through the dull and insipid narration just so I could come out on the other side and deliver this message to you, dear reader: Don’t pick up this book.
Two things annoyed me. The first was brought up by my insightful book club, who pointed out that this book could have easily been a children’s novel. The story was very simplistic and none of the major plot points would have been above the understanding of the 11-year-old narrator. So why was this an adult book? Normally if a story is about a child but written for adults, there is some element in the story that elevates it. But if I were to evaluate where this book belongs, I’d place it firmly in juvenalia. The other thing that bothers me about the book is the writer’s style, which seems to be striving to be poetic and thoughtful, but came off as clunky and cliche. Flavia often muses on life and offers the reader bon mots that are meant to show her wisdom beyond her years, but to me the prose offered nothing original or beautiful. I also found myself putting on my editor’s hat as I read and calling out inconsistencies in the text, which is never a good sign. If I start editing a book while I read it, you know you’ve lost me.
Would I recommend? Nope. How this book has ended up in so many promotions I really don’t know. And after two bad reviews in a row, I really need to get on track and read something wonderful. This may account for why I’ve posted more infrequently. Books I don’t love take me a lot longer to read than the ones I do.