Alan Bradley. Flavia is a pint-sized (age 12) chemistry buff who lives in a crumbling mansion called Buckshaw with her father and two older sisters, and uses science and her wits to solve a number of mysteries in and around her small English village of Bishop's Lacey in the early 1950s post-war England.
The long wait is finally over, and Flavia #8 is now in bookstores. I was fortunate enough to find a copy a few days before it was supposed to go on sale officially. (In fact, it's more than a week since the official release date and my local bookstore still doesn't have it. Grrrrr....)
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd picks up immediately where its predecessor (As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, reviewed here) left off. It's just before Christmas, and Flavia arrives home from a brief stint at school in Canada, expecting her family there to welcome her back. Instead, the only person there to greet her is the family retainer, Dogger -- and he has bad news: her beloved father is sick and in the hospital. Left to her own devices (even more so than usual), it doesn't take long before Flavia stumbles onto a new mystery to solve.
It was good to have Flavia back home with the familiar cast of characters around her. The actual mystery never seems to matter too much in these books -- it's the characters and the wonderful writing that hold our attention. While each mystery is self-contained, there's a continuing storyline unfolding that gradually reveals more information about Flavia & her family -- and keeps us coming back for more. For that reason, I would highly recommend starting with the first Flavia book, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," and working your way through the series in chronological order.
The mystery gets solved, but there's a cliffhanger at the end that had me gasping -- and reaching for the Kleenex box. I am not sure how long we have to wait for the next installment in the adventures of Flavia -- but it won't be soon enough to suit me!
This was book #17 that I've read to date in 2016.
“It never occurred to me that I couldn’t have children” is a statement that crops up frequently in the literature of I.V.F. A definition of subjectivity might be the failure to see what was given, and to understand thereby the meaning of what was not. The wisdom of experience is perhaps a wisdom of givens; but how can a parent — for whom the business of having children represents an accumulation of experience so colossal that it’s almost impossible to imagine what her world would have looked like without it — understand someone locked in the moment where the original impulse to have a child occurred, a moment that to them has become almost irrelevant? All parents know is that in that moment, they knew nothing at all. [emphasis added]Ouch. This is the ultimate sort of Smug Mommy remark, the kind of throwaway comment ("Oh, I can't IMAGINE my life without my kids...!") that cuts infertile women to the quick and still has the power to smart, years after treatment has been abandoned. The condescension practically drips off the page. Poor deluded crazy infertiles, obsessing over something that clearly was not Meant to Be. Thinking they know what parenthood is going to be like, when they clearly understand nothing of the sort.
When conception & pregnancy come easily, I suppose it's easy to dismiss that initial impulse/desire to have a child as "irrelevant." And I am sure all parents, in retrospect, realize how little they knew when they first set out to have a child. As I wrote recently, there's a big difference between thinking you're knowledgeable and prepared and then finding out, in the thick of things, how very little you actually know about any given situation. I was writing about infertility treatment and pregnancy loss, but it's also completely applicable to parenthood. I can understand that parents might find the naivete of prospective parents-to-be amusing. Most of them, though, have the good grace to keep their mouths shut about it.
Leigh's assumption that she will be able to combine motherhood and a creative life also seems to raise Cusk's hackles:
...it is surprising to hear her dismiss in a couple of lines — replete, what’s more, with clichés — the honorable testimony of female literary history regarding what very much is the rocket science of combining artistic endeavor with family life. Her tone reminds me of the recent blitheness of the Brexiteers, assuring they would “find a way” to make British independence work, despite the evidence to the contrary supplied by people who knew what they were talking about.How dare she!! Right?
"Who is to blame?" Cusk concludes (!):
If one were not interested in the question of accountability, it would be simple merely to say that I.V.F. didn’t work for Leigh and her husband. But what is most distressing about “Avalanche” is also what makes it important: It is the work of a palpably weakened author, a testimony of personal suffering whose legitimacy — on this telling — seems to have gone outrageously unquestioned. [emphasis added]Wow. Just... wow.