I was browsing the “new books” shelves at the library on Saturday, and came across an interesting book by Alan Bradley. Realizing it was the latest book in a series, I headed upstairs to find the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
It’s an odd title for a murder mystery (though these days it seems odd titles are popular, so it may be odd but not unusual). Odder still is the fact that the “detective” is only eleven years old. I’ve read lots of books with protagonists that age, but they were books written for young people.
Amazon.com provides an interview with Bradley, and he explains his choice of a child narrator:
People probably wonder, “What’s a 70-year-old-man doing writing about an 11-year-old-girl in 1950s England?” And it’s a fair question. To me, Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years: that time of our lives when we’re just starting out, when anything–absolutely anything!–is within our capabilities.
I think the reason that she manifested herself as a young girl is that I realized that it would really be a lot of fun to have somebody who was virtually invisible in a village. And of course, we don’t listen to what children say–they’re always asking questions, and nobody pays the slightest attention or thinks for a minute that they’re going to do anything with the information that they let slip. I wanted Flavia to take great advantage of that. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of dealing with an unreliable narrator; one whose motives were not always on the up-and-up.
She is an amalgam of burning enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, youthful idealism, and frightening fearlessness. She’s also a very real menace to anyone who thwarts her, but fortunately, they don’t generally realize it.
I don’t remember being that kind of 11-year-old, and I wished sometimes Flavia wouldn’t do the kind of reckless things she does. I was sure it was going to turn out badly for her.
I suppose I would have made a boring protagonist for a book, but Flavia is anything but boring. Perhaps I would have liked to be as daring as she is – though never as nasty as she is to her older sisters (not that they are any nicer to her).
One blog post I read says that the book is a “tongue in cheek parody of several literary genres,” but unfortunately I have no idea what genres those might be. So there may be even more to appreciate in the book than the story itself – but that is plenty entertaining by itself. I look forward to reading the rest of the series (though I probably won’t get another snow day with the luxury of just sitting around reading for a few hours).