A Series of Unfortunate Events: 3 and 4

I figured I would continue with this series since I’m on a roll! The Wide Window is the last book I read in the series the first time around, and I don’t like it is much as the other two, probably because it’s hard to like the Baudelaires’ phobic grammarian Aunt Josephine. The fatal Lachrymose Leeches are a creative twist, though.

I moved on to The Miserable Mill. Lemony Snicket devotes the first three pages to explaining why the first sentence (“The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better.) is a good indication that the book will indeed be an unhappy one. Let it never be said that this series suffers from false advertising. After their banker Mr. Poe drops them off at the factory their new temporary caretaker owns, they are forced to work long hours and live in the barren barracks. And Klaus suffers from hypnosis. [Which made me think of something when I was reading this that I now can’t remember. I think it was that I recently watched something involving hypnosis.]

This is the first book where you get a sense of a sinister larger picture, in that the eye from Olaf’s tattoo is also present in a few places around town. The movie of the first three books also hinted at this. I’m intrigued to know were this is going.

I don’t think I mentioned before the author’s penchant for big words, which he then explains. It’s especially funny when his definition is based on context rather than denotation. Here are a few for example:

  • “…so far each home had been a catastrophe, a word which here means ‘an utter disaster involving tragedy, deception, and Count Olaf.'”
  • “‘…we could do a forgery,’ Klaus said, using a word which here means ‘write something yourself and pretend that someone else wrote it.'”
  • “… Count Olaf and his nefarious assistants–the word ‘nefarious’ here means ‘Baudelaire-hating’…”
  • “…his voice faking–a word which here means ‘feigning’–kindness.”

Even though Count Olaf has so far always managed to escape, the books end on a slightly upbeat note because the orphans realize that they still have each other, and things could always be worse. Nevertheless, I think I need to take a short break from the series. Despite having grown up with Roald Dahl I’m in the mood for something a bit sunnier for now.

Published in: on July 27, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

A Series of Unfortunate Events: 1 and 2

I am notoriously bad at not finishing series. I stop, restart and read farther, and stop again. Part of me doesn’t want to say goodbye to characters I like, and part of me just gets distracted by other books. There’s another part, though, that hates loose ends, and I’m determined to cross some of these books off my list once and for all. The Year of the Reread seems the perfect time for that.

If you are interested in stories with happy endings,, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.

I can vividly recall the first time I heard of A Series of Unfortunate Events. My mom had dropped off her car in town for an inspection, so we walked to the library for some books and brought them back. I happened to find the first two books in this series. They were the only ones available, so I must have been around twelve at the time. I think I finished both before the car was done (I’m a quick reader). I know I read the third book at a later date, but not the other ten. My brother did buy and read the whole series, so I’m borrowing his to finally find out the rest of the story.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the premise is that Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny Baudelaire have a very unfortunate life. In The Bad Beginning, an unexplained fire destroys their house and kills their parents. They cannot touch the family fortune until Violet turns 21, so in the meantime they are sent to live with their previously-unknown uncle Olaf. His only goals in life are to hang out with his acting troupe, make the children miserable, and scheme up ways to get his hands on their money. They foil his plans in the first book, and move onto herpetologist Uncle Monty in The Reptile Room, but things take a turn for the worse when Count Olaf turns up in disguise.

The books are dark, but blatantly so, and the misfortunes of children are so extreme as to be almost humorous. Though bad things happen, it’s sort of like Hansel and Gretel about to be eaten by a witch or Cinderella made to scrub floors. What really makes these books work is the writing style of “Lemony Snicket.” The author has created this mysterious persona complete with  a shadowing profile and dedications to the dead Beatrice. He claims that he has been entrusted with these true stories to make the plight of the Baudelaires known to the public, acting as an omniscient Had They But Known narrator. It’s great.

The books are also surprisingly educational, kind of like, “Hey, kids, listen to this.” For example, in the second book he gives the following paragraph, after an explanation of what dramatic irony means:

As you and I listen to Uncle Monty tell the three Baudelaire orphans that no harm will ever come to them in the Reptile Room, we should be experiencing the strange feeling that accompanies the arrival of dramatic irony. This feeling is not unlike the sinking in one’s stomach when one is in an elevator that suddenly goes down, or when you are snug in bed and your closet door suddenly creaks open to reveal the person who has been hiding there. For no matter how safe or happy the three children felt, no matter how comforting Uncle Monty’s words were, you and I know that soon Uncle Monty will be dead and the Baudelaires will be miserable once again.

He is so upfront and matter-of-fact about the tragedies in the book that they cease to be traumatic. It’s almost like in the Addams Family, how the macabre and off-kilter are presented as normal. I can’t wait to have kids someday so  I can read these to them.

Also, random note: the orphans look through a cookbook and decide to cook puttanesca when Count Olaf asks for a dinner party. I’d never heard of this until Cornelia called it her comfort food in Belong to Me. I also realized I was entirely wrong in assuming that capers were some sort of sea food, as Snicket explains that they are flower buds from a shrub. See what I mean about these being educational?

Published in: on July 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,