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Like some, my first introduction to A Series of Unfortunate Events came over a decade ago when Jim Carrey, alongside Emily Browning, introduced the series through the movie version. However, nothing came thereafter until the announcement of a Netflix adaptation. So, like Recovery Road, I find myself intrigued enough to check out the book before the series and, let me tell you, so far so good.
Chapter Summaries (with Commentary)
Chapter 1: the Baudelaire orphans
Let me begin by saying that is hard to say what is Lemony Snicket’s role here. Naturally, he is the narrator, but considering there are books in which he seems like a detective, one has to wonder if this is all a case? One which starts with a mysterious fire which kills the Baudelaire children’s parents, and leaves them seemingly without a single parental figure.
Leading to perhaps the one thing which gives me pause when it comes to this book, the need to define words. It begins with Mr. Poe defining a word for Klaus, the middle child, and is a constant thing Snicket picks up from there. Thus leading you to wonder if the book is meant to help expand your vocabulary, or to perhaps question your intelligence? Though it could very well just be me being sensitive.
But to help you become acclimated a bit more with the story, all you need to know is that there are three orphans: The oldest, Violet, is 14 and is a young girl very interested in the inner working of things. To the point that she loves to build and take apart things, as well as come up with possible inventions. Klaus, 12, is similar to his sister in the form of him being quite curious about the way things work, but rather than in practice it seems he is much more about theory. Hence his love for books vs. doing as his sister who is much more of a hands-on learner. Lastly, there is Sunny, someone with an undisclosed age, but considering how often she is picked up, and how she doesn’t seem to be able to form words properly yet, let us assume she is less than 2. Currently, her most definable trait is her love for biting things.
Chapter 2: My next door neighbor, Count Olaf
Despite how grand of a life it seems the Baudelaire family had, unfortunately, it seems no one is willing to volunteer to take care of them, at least until Violet comes of age and inherits the family fortune. So, for a short while, they are with Mr. Poe, the man who is the executor of the estate, and then with the dreaded Count Olaf. Someone who it is hard to not picture as Jim Carrey, for the way he was dressed in the movie matches finely with the book.
But perhaps the main thing to tune into is the introduction of Justice Strauss, who was played by Catherine O’Hara in the movie. If only because she seemingly is the sole source of happiness for the children, and if the movie and book are similar, you know Count Olaf can be quite jealous. Well, at least jealous of anyone who threatens the potential of money.
Chapter 3: “Could we perhaps borrow a cookbook?”
Though not noted yet, I should tell you that Count Olaf, in case you didn’t know, isn’t at all a lovely man. This man separated from the orphans by cousins removed is some sort of theatrical performer with an obsession with eyes. The type of eyes which the children almost make seem like the portraits in a Scooby Doo episode, the type which follows you around but you can never prove they are looking specifically at you. But perhaps the two worst things about Count Olaf is how terrible his home is, especially in comparison to the mansion they were used to, and how he gives them far more responsibilities than they have been used to. Leading to a slight issue noted in chapter 5, which makes you wonder something: Is Count Olaf truly, without a doubt, a terrible person, or are these children just privileged and lazy? I mean, I’m unsure of what the exact time period is, but all things considered, the children seem born into a rather lucky life. One in which the family had a huge library, the children could toil away on the beach, or invent things all day, and what Count Olaf asks of them, like cooking, is seemingly foreign. So while Count Olaf is painted as a villain, and becomes an official one later on, I do feel that you have to try to see things from both points of view at this point. A poor man with rich children trying his best, vs. rich children living with a poor man, upset they don’t have the accommodations they are used to.
Chapter 4: The theater troupe laughed, and a few of them applauded as if Count Olaf had done something very brave instead of despicable.
Remember that small note about Count Olaf asking the children to cook? Well, he did. Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t just for him and them, but also his theater troupe. A group which goes beyond the acceptable eccentric, for some of them sound downright creepy. In fact, one which talks to Violet sounds like the type who would do something very indecent if left alone with her. Thankfully nothing like that comes to past, and this book doesn’t seem like the type that would go there, but while it skips over possible perversion we are told Count Olaf strikes Klaus. Though, once more, I find myself torn. If only because Klaus embarrasses Count Olaf and I think back to my childhood. For I know that if I was to ever speak against my parents, especially at 12, in front of company, the same would have happened to me. Which I don’t condone, and mentally, at my age, say I would do to my children, but so comes the thought that this is a different time and generation. But I think it can be universally agreed, no adult wants a child to come at them as Klaus did publicly, and it was quite an inappropriate thing to do, which I’m sure Klaus knew.
*I should note that Olaf wasn’t at all kind to the orphans while his troupe was there. Hell, as noted, even his troupe were unkind toward the orphans and downright deplorable adults.
Chapter 5: loco parentis
After Klaus is struck, that pretty much is the last straw for the orphans. They decide to see Mr. Poe and all he can say is “loco parentis.” Which basically means, legally, since Count Olaf is their father, he is within his rights to give them these inane chores, provide what he can for bedding, and perhaps even strike the children. Thus proving this series, as the pictures throughout hint, are nowhere near modern times. There are no child protective services, or a similar agency, and pretty much the Baudelaire orphans are left with no option but to adapt to Count Olaf’s whims. A disheartening idea, since at a minimum they would have to for 4 years, but Mr. Poe doesn’t at all seem like an advocate. Making it seem, Justice Strauss, who willingly lets the kids use her library, and come to her house, might be the sole adult offering any sort of refuge. Though they don’t dare try to tap into her sympathies as a possible way out, for reasons I don’t fully understand, besides not wanting to trouble her.
Granted it is only the beginning but, after a book like Recovery Road, it is nice to read something which isn’t diary form and does challenge the mind a bit. For during my first read I had the initial thought many would have in terms of seeing Count Olaf as a villain, but then I found myself, as I reread for this, remembering the time period and expectations. Not in a way to excuse Count Olaf, but at least understand him. For while he has his own home, and lives next to Justice Strauss, which means at one time he likely was doing well, things are harder now and just that amount of thought processing is what almost lead to me finishing the book and just writing an overall overview/ review (with Spoilers).
One has to admit that despite series like Harry Potter and more out there, something is appealing about a book starting off by telling you, flat out, don’t expect happy endings, middles, or beginnings. If only because books made for children, or young adults, always seem to have an unspoken “but” to it. In The Fault in Our Stars, yes Hazel had cancer, but she did get to meet a cute guy, go to Amsterdam and meet her favorite author, have sex, and get to live a little; and yeah, Maddie did have a substance abuse problem, but she did meet a cute guy and they dated for a while, and she got her life back together. All of which is fine, and I’m not necessarily knocking happy, or at least decent, endings for the lead characters, but the idea of things not ending well at all instantly forces you to change your expectations. Making things seem refreshing.
Though just mentioned as a characteristic, and not necessarily exhibited much, if at all, thus far, one has to take note, and appreciate, Violet being a young girl into the STEM field. Which may not be a big deal for me, since I’m a cis male and etc, but I’m sure when this book was released in 1999 it meant something to someone who got to read about a girl with similar interest to them.
I quite like most of Lemony Snicket’s chapter introductions, and his general commentary on his thoughts about what is happening to, or the feelings of, the Baudelaire children. The kid in me finds them comical, and the adult version almost finds them challenging. As if he is so much trying to paint these children as miserable beings to take pity on, that perhaps he is hiding something.
On The Fence
Really, the only thing I’m not fond of here is the constant defining of words by Lemony Snicket. Coming from Mr. Poe it makes sense, but from Mr. Snicket is bothers me. For while one could argue he is telling an unnamed person this story, who may be of lesser education, at the same time if that theory isn’t true, then it becomes quite annoying for someone to break down what simple words mean. A footnote could have been just as good.
Question(s) Left Unanswered
Was the fire really an accident?
How did Count Olaf end up being Judge Strauss’ neighbor? Did Count Olaf luck out, has he stolen money to get to where he is, as a member of his troupe alludes, or could he have possibly inherited the house?
How is it, after all those fancy parties, and the extensive network the Baudelaire seemed to have had, there was no one to take the children?
Unless I missed it, what exactly did the family wealth come from?
How old is Count Olaf? Does he look old simply because of lifestyle, or is he perhaps pushing 50, 60, or beyond?
What significance is the eye which is all over his house, and is even a tattoo?
Is Lemony Snicket a character, or just a narrator which likes to break the 4th wall?