Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I'm just a little behind the times in that I finished A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket just four days ago, on the 13th. I do have to laugh at the irony of finishing a series chock full of bad luck, with thirteen books, on the 13th. Thank goodness it wasn't a Friday. Anyway, I suppose I ought to preface this by saying I probably read the first few books in their entirety while I was shelving books at the Bloomington Public Library. And I have seen the movie, which I enjoyed for various reasons, despite it not really covering the extent of the Baudelaire's plight. So there's that. But I decided I would begin at the beginning again, and so I did.


Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are enjoying a gloomy morning at Briny Beach when they receive the bad news that their parents have perished in a fire that also utterly destroyed their mansion. They go to live with Count Olaf, who is *supposedly* a relative. Clearly, he doesn't care about the children. In fact, he is trying to get hold of their apparently enormous fortune. Oh joy. But these children are resourceful. Violet is an amateur inventor, Klaus is an avid researcher, and Sunny is a baby who loves to bite things. Between the three of them, and the use of a library, they manage to escape Olaf's clutches. And so on, and so on. In every book, Olaf disguises himself and comes after the children, always managing to be defeated by their skills, though certainly not with the help of any adult. The adults in these books are particularly ridiculous, because they are wishy-washy people who believe everything and nothing and are basically idiots.

The children are sent to their Uncle Monty, their Aunt Josephine, a horribly run sawmill, a very strange school, a townhouse with a fake elevator, and a really creepy and stupid village before finally ending up on their own. Then they set out across the hinterlands in search of somewhere safe, even though they are fairly certain there is nowhere safe, at least not until Olaf is finally gone. They then volunteer at a half-built hospital (really, what is with these people???), disguise themselves as freaks at a circus, and suddenly find themselves alone in the mountains. Meanwhile, the mysteries about their parents and an organization only known as VFD keep piling up.

In the mountains, they finally reach the last known safe place, only to discover that it too has been burned down. It is here, in book ten, The Slippery Slope, that things start to make some sense. The children also struggle with doing the right thing, and I found the morality struggle incredibly interesting. Though they are only kids (Violet is 14, Klaus turns 13 at some point, and Sunny is probably around 2 or 3), they know that there are things that are wrong and that doing those things doesn't really make them any better than Count Olaf and his troupe.

By book eleven, The Grim Grotto, the children have really begun to take things into their own hands, and have also met with other members of VFD, discovering more and more instances where good people have done bad things, and bad people have done good things. In book twelve, which was probably my favourite, The Penultimate Peril, they finally reach the Hotel Denouement, which is laid out like a huge library. Almost everyone from their past is there, and of course, bad things happen and the building goes up in flames. But they escape...with Count Olaf. It seems for a time, that they are on the same side. Yet the children do not want anything to do with him, they want to be truly distanced from him, but they also don't want to commit murder.

And then comes The End, the thirteenth and final book in this madcap series. the Baudelaires wash up on an island where they are told "everything eventually washes up on these shores" which has a distinct air of finality to it. And unfortunately, if I told you any more, I would be truly spoiling it for those who have not read it. All I have to say is that this book confused me more than the rest put together and I was disappointed in how it ended.


Lemony Snicket, or more accurately Daniel Handler, is a master of writing. The tale of the Baudelaires was overly ridiculous most of the time, but throughout the series there is an awesome emphasis on reading. In fact, most of the names of places and people (and indeed, the babytalk Sunny uses) are taken directly from literature. I'm actually glad I read these as an adult, because I think I understood every single literary reference that was hidden in the books.

It wasn't my favourite kids series ever, but it was a fun one to read, and I found myself alternately laughing and shaking my head in annoyance within seconds of each action. And just like in real life, stories confuse us and end abruptly, with no good explanation.

Four stars for the series as a whole.

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