As it happens, Flavia is my 7th continent for the Global Reading Challenge hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. For those unfamiliar with the notion of the seventh continent, this could be crime fiction from or set in Antarctica. However, since there is remarkably little literature being written there – I suppose all those scientists have got bigger equipment to
fry monitor – it can also be defined as: the sea, space, the supernatural, history, the future – or whichever alternative setting you can come up with for this wildcard category.
In my case, following fashion would clearly be a novelty for me. So I read something about vampires (that was my first contribution to the challenge). My second venture into the realm of trendiness was YA literature. My children are still too young to read YA, so I haven’t been able to borrow their books yet. In fact, I am not quite sure what YA is, because when I was 12-18 I was reading all the grown-up books when I wanted to be cool and all the children’s books when I needed comforting.
I still do.
And sure enough, the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley strikes me as the kind of thing to appeal to grown-ups more than to eleven-year-olds, even such precocious 11-year-olds as Flavia. This is comfort food at its best. The book I read was ‘I am Half-Sick of Shadows’ and it’s a perfect escapist read.
Flavia is the youngest daughter of an aristocratic English family, who has fallen on hard times. They are struggling to make ends meet in their crumbling country house, but they still manage to have servants and a laboratory in the east wing. This is where Flavia, a budding chemist, can recreate her uncle’s experiments. She is planning something special this Christmas: to entrap Father Christmas with a birdlime resin mixture as he slides down the chimney.
In the meantime, her father is renting out their manor as a film location. Flavia is annoyed that Christmas preparations are suffering as a result of the invasion of the film crew, but her sisters are excited to meet the famous film star Phyllis Wyvern. When Phyllis agrees to stage a charity event at the hall, more than half the village turns up to watch despite forecasts of blizzard. Everyone is snowed in for the night, and they soon make a shocking discovery: a body, strangled to death with a length of film. As the local police bumble along in their investigation, it is up to perky little Flavia to uncover the real culprit.
As you can surmise, this book looks back nostalgically at the Golden Age of crime fiction: a typical country-house mystery with a small cast of characters. What makes it different, of course, is the witty, prickly and mischievous narrator, Flavia herself. She is an intriguing, beguiling creation – but, let’s be honest, no eleven year old would think, talk or behave like that.
So that’s why I think this book is aimed at an adult audience, who can appreciate all of the puns and cultural or scientific references. Adults who have a nostalgia for their childhood capers and who seem to remember they were far more precocious than they perhaps really were. I’ve reread a few of my ‘young adult’ diaries and there is very little trace of sophistication or wit there, I can assure you. Luckily, there is in this book, so a good time will be had by all.
- A cosy crime: Alan Bradley’s ‘Speaking from Among the Bones’ (aportablemagic.wordpress.com)
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (pagesunbound.wordpress.com)
- Review: The sweetness at the bottom of the pie / Alan Bradley (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)