Monday, February 16, 2015

Meet Flavia de Luce: Diminutive Sherlock

Every once in a while, I come across a quote in a novel that grabs my attention – either because it strikes me as profound, or it stirs up tears or laughter. The stirring up laughter kind of quote is the one I usually run across in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries. Today it was this one, said by a rather batty (but inspiring) maiden aunt to her brilliant eleven year old niece:

“If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one’s self if like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world.” (~The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bones)

I’m reading the second novel in this delightfully quirky series, and enjoying myself for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is Bradley’s ability to disprove critics who think a child can’t be a suitable protagonist in a story mostly intended for adults. To be sure, I think Flavia’s mysteries would play well with a young adult audience too – though I wonder if young adults (more than older ones) might be put off the eleven year old heroine. But maybe not. Maybe they’d embrace her even more wholeheartedly!

Like Ender of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novels, Flavia never quite seems her age – except on the rare occasions that she has to. The limits of an eleven year old’s world set interesting parameters for mystery solving. Flavia may compare herself to the “swarming clerics in Anthony Trollope who seemed to spend their days buzzing from cloister to vicarage and from village to the bishop’s palace like black clockwork beetles scuttling to and fro in a green maze” but our diminutive Sherlock has to make her way in pursuit of clues on her bicycle -- which she’s named Gladys.

I think that may be the genius of Flavia: she’s precocious enough to have read Trollope (okay, she confesses she “skimmed bits” of it, and that she’s not terribly into the books because there’s no one her age in them) but she’s still child enough to name her bicycle. She’s brilliant enough to perform incredible forensic chemistry experiments in her lab, but still insecure and immature enough to use her scientific brilliance in the pursuit of petty revenge on her older sisters (beware lipsticks and chocolates at the de Luce home…you never know what Flavia might have syringed inside them).

Between the genius of Flavia’s character and the lively humor of Bradley’s similes, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself with this series. I just might need to start collecting Bradley’s similes, like one collects bright beetles in a jar. He can’t seem to go more than a page or two without indulging in one. They’re often laugh-aloud funny at the same time they’re surprisingly evocative.

Did I mention the mysteries are pretty good too? There’s even a real police inspector, the amiable and smart Inspector Hewitt, who welcomes Flavia’s brilliance even if he’s not too sure what to do about her poking her nose into his cases.

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