August 02, 2008

Series of Unfortunate Events

I'm finally getting around to writing book reviews for all the stuff that I've read over the past few months. Farthest back in my queue is A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (note: SPOLIER ALERT for anyone who thinks they might read these)

Quick overview: The series consists of 13 books that chronicle the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, whose parents have just died in a mysterious fire. They have a large inheritance that is being held for them until they come of age, and the book chronciles their (mis)adventures as they try to elude the villainous Count Olaf, who is trying to seize their money.

The books are written really well - my main reaction reading this is that I would have LOVED it when I was a kid. They're written for people who love reading - lots of obvious (and not so obvious) literary references, black humor, complicated and made-up words, and a wheels-within-wheels type mystery. The books start out with a standard formula: the kids move to a new foster home with a distant relative, Count Olaf shows up in disguise and hatches some scheme, the kids foil it, and they are forced to move on somewhere else. It gets grating after awhile, but luckily these books are quick reads, and the series switches gears after the 6th book, when they start learning more about the events that their parents were mixed up in, and after the 7th book, when the Baudelaires are on the run after being framed for murder.

In the end, it very much is not a children's book. The line between good and evil blurs slowly over the couse of the book, as we get some insight into the pasts of many of the villains and the good guys aren't revealed to be all that good at times. At several points towards the end the main characters wonder whether they've become villains themselves. The children are exposed to the adult world, which has very few sympathetic characters, even among those who were helpful to the children (not to mention the fact that the most sympathetic characters tend to end up dead).

In the end, they are eventually freed from Count Olaf's interference, and have seen a lot of their preconceptions about the world and their parents torn down. They've seen the world, and it's just pretty nasty and petty in general and are questioning their own actions. Whether I view the ending as good or bad depends on how I'm feeling...if I'm in a good mood and feeling optimistic, then I think that they will be able to use the lessons they've learned from their mistakes (and the many mistakes etc of the people they encountered) to raise and educate Beatrice and be positive forces for change in the deeply flawed world around them. If I'm feeling grouchy, then I feel that the Baudelaires are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the previous generation. Most of the mystery surrounding Count Olaf, VFD, and the events of the past are left unsolved, which left me feeling deeply unsatisfied and almost cheated in a way. But, maybe the fact that the children seem to be letting go of all of this baggage from the past is a sign that history will not repeat itself, and the optimist in me is the winner.


Anonymous said...

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