With the release of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, I just HAD to re-read the books!
I was given the first three as a birthday present when I was around 9 or 10, and I fell in love! I read them over and over until I could save up pocket money to buy the next one. I think they were the first books I’d read that weren’t “and they lived happily ever after”. They were odd, and twisted, and funny, and wonderful all at once. I’ve never read anything like them since, Lemony Snicket is a magician with words.
It’s been a very long time since I read the series, and I cannot remember what happens to the Baudelaire children in The End, so I’ve decided to start again. However, there are 13 books in the series, and that is a lot of books to review! So I’ll give it a go doing three at a time. Possible spoilers ahead!
The Bad Beginning
It’s difficult to tell how realistic the series is intended to be; there is obviously a childish element to the books as they are aimed at a younger audience. Adults are unrealistically irresponsible; Mr Poe for example, being entirely incapable of placing the children in a suitable home. However, I find this more of a Roald Dahl-esque way of relating to children on their level, than a critique. The more confusing elements are things like Sunny, described only as a baby who cannot speak yet (typically around a year old), but understands entirely her situation and is depicted as walking and running alongside her siblings.
On to the story. The books are shorter than I remembered, even for children’s/young adult books. I’ve managed to get through one every two or three days while working full time. But I find that
this does not take away from the books; Snicket manages to be descriptive, go off on tangents and pack in a lot of action within the bare minimum of pages. We see the Baudelaires become orphans, live with Mr Poe, survive Count Olaf’s chores and dinner parties, Sunny’s capture, Violet’s invention succeeding but causing her own capture, a fake wedding, and Olaf’s escape. That’s a huge amount of actual plot that he’s managed to fit in around intriguing tidbits of his own life, delightful character development and becoming a thesaurus…a word which here means ‘explaining random words that we already understand’.
The first instalment of ASOUE is a perfect introduction to characters that I feel for, like and wish the best for, despite being told to do otherwise!
The Reptile Room
I remember the second book to have made me the most sad, and so far I still feel the same. Again, despite being told not to get my hopes up, it’s hard not to imagine the children living a happy life with Uncle Monty and his reptile collection. I remember being gutted when Uncle Monty was killed, and re-reading it knowing that he would perish simply made me sad all the way through instead!
We are introduced to Count Olaf’s first disguise in book two, and although it is ridiculously transparent and the Baudelaires instantly see through it, no adult will believe them. This sets a precedent for the forthcoming books and alludes to the unrealistic aspect of the series…however I think this is the point. It is intended to frustrate the reader so as to feel more and more sorry for the children. It feels as though Snicket has managed to capture the typical pantomime villain and make him genuinely evil and scary.
I liked The Reptile Room, and I think it has a satisfying ending…the children work hard to outdo Count Olaf and deservedly succeed, despite the challenging circumstances.
The Wide Window
This is my least favourite of the first three books, I think mostly because of Aunt Josephine. Again, I think we as the reader are intended to dislike her. She is not necessarily a bad person, but it is made quite clear in the end that she is an unfit caregiver. She is unrealistically scared of everything and should never have been allowed to look after the Baudelaires in the first place. I can feel myself becoming frustrated with Mr Poe as I write this, and can only commend Snicket once more for how cleverly he has written; I genuinely believe this is the desired outcome and it takes someone with incredible talent to create such an odd and brilliant emotion in a reader.
The Wide Window has more of the unrealistic aspects mentioned previously;
man-eating leeches, children managing to sail a boat in a hurricane, and I can’t quite believe that Aunt Josephine’s hand written ‘will’ supersedes the Baudelaire parents’ one. However, if I remember correctly, the stories only get wilder from here on out, and I’m going to need to re-engage my childhood imagination to enjoy them to the fullest!