(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.