Obviously, this doggo would not be the worst ANYTHING — he’s looking rather puzzled and dismayed on purpose, because of the astoundingly perplexing experience I recently had, attempting to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.
I think those of us who read constantly, and in a number of genres, may toss around the phrase “the worst thing I EVER read!” at least a few times in our lives. It’s even possible we’ll hit our lowest low, then one day a new title will actually take that coveted place from its previous designator. And with all the good books in the world — and with taste being subjective! — the notion that we may end up hating more titles than we actually enjoy either suggests we simply don’t have much selection to choose from, or that we’re very finnicky in our reading selections.
I’ve written before about the problem of both scenarios. Both have their valid points. However, when it comes to the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I have a feeling the issue isn’t a persnickety bookdragon, but rather that this is a prime example of what in the literal hell was the author smoking and why did the publisher take the same drug to consider giving this total dumpster fire the green light.
On the surface, the Flavia de Luce series, of which The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first installment, is a typical silly murder mystery, narrated by protagonist Flavia, a precocious 11-year-old living in England in the 1930s, coming from a wealthy family run by the housekeeper — who of course is a terrible cook — since her eccentric father can’t do anything remotely adult-like, and her older sisters are spoiled brats. Flavia takes an early interest in chemistry, and this is how she solves the unexpected murder. This might, in theory, be so bad it’s just funny; but, it’s truly, truly not.
The fact is, Flavia is one of the most unhinged fictional characters I’ve ever come across. She doesn’t act, think, or speak like an 11-year-old (not even a child genius one!) — she behaves like a 45-year-old cynical misanthrope who thinks any pursuit in life outside of chemistry is just dumb. She believes herself superior to everyone — without any evidence towards this mindset — and behaves accordingly. She has no desire to be around other children, and doesn’t even like many adults. She mocks and taunts her older sisters and every facet of their beings, until they can’t take it anymore, and tie her up and lock her in a closet. And the revenge she decides to take on them for this action (of self-defense, clearly!) is to put poison ivy in her sister’s favorite lipstick. Just. What.
In the narration, Flavia is near insufferable before the end of the first chapter. Even listening to the audiobook, I wanted to reach inside the recording and strangle the total sociopath crackpot that was supposed to be the “heroine” of this story.
I certainly do not mind needing to suspend disbelief when reading fiction, nor do I feel every character has to be relatable or even realistic. BUT.
I guess common sense, and even actual facts, went completely out the window when it came to editing this piece of trash. NO RATIONAL CHILD ACTS LIKE THIS. Flavia reminds one of a villain origin story, of a person with severe emotional or mental disturbances, who will later be the very murderer a police detective protagonist is hunting. She was literally trying to poison her 16-year-old sibling. This is not clever, amusing, or morally acceptable!! How in the HELL is this a bestselling series?! HOW and WHY did many, many people keep reading *9* of these books?!
I didn’t even make it through all of the first disc. By the time I took the disc out and prepared the set for its return to the library, I thought to myself, “This is very possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.”
And those of you who have been around this little corner of the internet for a while, you’ll already be aware I don’t tolerate stupidity in fiction well.
For me, the biggest WRONG with the entire situation — series, author, publisher, readers — is that everyone seems to believe, without irony, that Flavia is a witty, confident, ahead-of-her-time little firecracker. Rather than seeing her as a serial killer in training, desperately in need of being shipped off to a military-style boarding school that will take away her chemistry set, she’s viewed by the fans as underappreciated due to her age, but the other characters will come to respect her (after she shoves her self-righteous nose into police business and puts her own life in jeopardy). Her normal, grounded, sane siblings are to be thought of in the same light as the evil stepsisters from Cinderella. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her muddle-headed, overly neurotic father, because he’s a widower with 3 kids (that he never takes care of), and a vast, inherited estate. *Of course* the idea that Flavia is smarter than the village police isn’t meant as anything other than a slightly cheeky plot device.
This, humans, is why I prefer cats and dogs.