Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lemony Snicket: The Penultimate Peril

(Note: If I had extra cash I would have a copy of Stadium Arcadium in my hands last week already, and as of today I'd have grabbed up Broken Boy Soldiers, but that is not the case. No new music for me yet. So I'll happily gleefully review a book I finished last week. Out of rockin mode, into Snicket mode...)

If you're not familiar with Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, heed the warnings. These stories really are too terrible to read, and you'd be better off finding something more pleasant to occupy your time. There is little joy in the sad tale of the Baudelaire orphans, whose parents perished in a Terrible Fire. Since then they have been placed in the not-so-caring care of many inept adults, all the while thwarting the Nefarious Count Olaf, "nefarious" here meaning, "a very greedy dirty man who schemes elaborately to destroy the children in order to acquire their fortunes."

I own every book in this series including the Unauthorized Autobiography. What does this say about me? That I have a dark side...

Let me start with the packaging. In this case, it's above the bar of excellence. There is something distincly old fashioned about the look of the books but it's from a time that may not have existed. The paper is thick and each edge is carefully frayed. The spines have a canvas bound appearance, the font does not have a modern look, and most of the pages have some form of decoration on them.

Illustrator Brett Helquist, a talented artist, has given life to the stories perfectly. The Baudelaire's world is shifty and timeless; partly seedy and grimy, but at times brilliantly bright and sharp. It's a time period when people live in gothic mansions and wear spats on their shoes. It's a country where people have every accent and style of dress. It's a place where adults are stupid and children try their best to be respectful but are constantly told how little they know. The sadness and futility come through in the spooky, elegant pictures.

By this point in the story, the orphans have gotten free from their string of awful guardians and have been on their own, trying to unravel the mysteries about their lives and the deaths of their parents. Book the Twelfth now finds them hiding out in the Hotel Denouement, undercover, trying to decide who they can trust. Apparently, nobody. This is especially frightening since every nasty character they've come across has gathered here for a very important meeting.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'll let you in on something significant: EVERYTHING in this series is significant. Every book has thirteen chapters. This being the "penultimate" book, you know it'll go to thirteen books. Each book has been a little bit thicker than the one before it. If I wasn't so lazy, I could go right now to my bookshelf and most likely find that each one is thirteen pages longer than the one before.

This importance of detail is why my only complaint about this book, is that I could barely keep track of what had happened before!

Small complaint. The writing is as perfect as ever. When you read this (and you will, despite the warnings not to, because you are a curious beast) bring a dictionary! It's worth it! Mr Snicket uses his usual gimmicks and repetitions and alliterations to move us through the story. Be on your toes for literary references too. I just found another one, just now. ("be on your toes" here meaning "Mr Snicket brilliantly borrows things from previously written works")

He's true to his characters. The children are growing up, and this is one of the most heartbreaking aspects: they don't stay young forever. Violet and Klaus are teenagers now, each with an endangered love interest. Sunny now speaks in phrases several words long and has become a good cook. Meanwhile, Count Olaf has a new dramatic affectation. The nefarious ex-girlfriend Esme Squalor is as IN as ever.

And true to form, there is betrayal, despair, mystery and confusion. There is invention. There is a library. And there is food. And of course, somebody has to die!

This truly is a sad book. It really is Quite Awful. But you know what? Your life won't be as despondent as those of the Baudlaire children, but you could still be the victim of misfortune. Parents sometimes die, and children face a very different life in the aftermath. There are times when you don't want to be told that things could be worse. There are times when you need to be told that Yes, This Is Very Bad.

The saddest part for me is that there will only be one more.


Redneck Nerdboy! said...

Lord, this guy took an awful chance making such an awful story and somehow it became popular!

Very interesting.

Heidi the Hick said...

I know! When I think about how many perfectly pleasant stories I've sent off to publishers and gotten the rejections letters...with a concept like this I'm surprised the publishers got past the cover letter!

It must have been a particularly amazingly and intriguingly dreadful cover letter!

Big Orange said...

go ahead and put "Series..." in Wikipedia: it's cool...

RED: have you read the books? They're really addicting, especially after book 4 or so when things get really interconnected.

HEIDI: I love series fiction, ESPECIALLY this Series. I'm not quite sure WHY, nor why this series had caught the public imagination: you'd THINK it'd have been rejected almost immediately, but perhaps the world is growing into fondness for black, gothic humor.

Meanwhile, the most important thing you said, H, was the last line: I too will feel disapointed when there are NO MORE stories to read...

Notsocranky Yankee said...

My husband bought these for our daughter to try to get her to read something other than Harry Potter. Maybe that's why it took her a little while to warm up to it. She is a clever girl and gets all the references very well.

I'm sure the final book will be out soon. It will be both exciting and sad.

Balloon Pirate said...

We're halfway through Book the 12th. We read these in my bed, together, at night. They're both capable of reading them by themselves, but I think they prefer the safety of Dad reading the stories for them.

Although, I must say, it's damed difficult to read backwards words aloud.


Heidi the Hick said...

Orange- There is so much happy smiley hand-holding stuff out there, and it's good, but sometimes it feels so reassuring to know that somebody else feels your pain. Or is at least good at writing about fictional pain that is way worse than yours...!

Yankee- This series really forces the reader to stretch, doesn't it!

Pirate- I read to my kids in bed too, and they're now 12 & almost 10. (We're reading Inkspell now.) I hope they want to continue because it's so much fun to read together, and now that the stories are getting more grown-up, there are more discussion opportunties.

We haven't read these together, although the Girl has read them. I admit, I'm rather intimidated by the Snicket books...tricky to read out loud!!!