Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. With her high level of knowledge, her erudition and her self-reliance, Flavia hardly seems your typical eleven-year-old girl. Or does she? Discuss Flavia and her personality, and how her character drives this novel. Can you think of other books that have used a similar protagonist?
2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie falls within the tradition of English country house mysteries, but with the devilishly intelligent Flavia racing around Bishop’s Lacey on her bike instead of the expected older woman ferreting out the truth by chatting with her fellow villagers. Discuss how Bradley uses the traditions of the genre, and how he plays with them too.
3. What is your favorite scene from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie?
4. With her excessive interest in poisons and revenge, it’s no surprise that Flavia is fascinated, not scared, as she watches the stranger die in her garden. In your view, is her dark matter-of-factness more refreshing or disturbing?
5. Flavia reminds us often about Harriet, the mother she never knew, and has many keepsakes that help her imagine what she was like. Do you think the real Harriet would have fit into Flavia’s mold?
6. Flavia’s distance from her father, the Colonel, is obvious, yet she loves him all the same. Does their relationship change over the course of the novel in a lasting way? Would Flavia want it to?
7. Through Flavia’s eyes what sort of a picture does Alan Bradley paint of the British aristocracy? Think as well about how appearances aren’t always reality, as with the borderline bankruptcy of Flavia’s father and Dr. Kissing.
8. Discuss the meaning (or meanings) of the title The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
9. What twists in the plot surprised you the most?
10. Buckshaw, the estate, is almost a character in its own right here, with its overlarge wings, hidden laboratory, and pinched front gates. Talk about how Bradley brings the setting to life in this novel – not only Buckshaw itself, but Bishop’s Lacey and the surrounding area.
11. What does Flavia care about most in life? How do the people around her compare to her chemistry lab and books?
12. Like any scientist. Flavia expects her world to obey certain rules, and seems to be thrown off kilter when surprises occur. How much does she rely on the predictability of those around her, like her father and her sisters, in order to pursue her own interests (like solving the murder)?