Friday, September 9, 2016

THE BAD BEGINNING


Review of THE BAD BEGINNING by LEMONY SNICKET
(first in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS)


I already read this entire series years ago, but I wanted to re-read them to review on my blog. It’s a collection of short, witty middle reader novels where terrible and unfair things keep happening to our perfectly likable main characters.

Most fiction, especially that for younger audiences, strives for an upbeat tone, a happy and neat ending, and often even a nice moral. This one breaks that mold. The title warns you and the narrator continually warns you: if you want a happy story, read something else.

Siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were once happy, before this first book even started. They had two wonderful, loving parents and lived in a huge mansion that provided everything they could want. Then their parents died. The children are sent off to live with their nearest relative, Count Olaf, who’s a cruel oaf and only after their vast inheritance. He concocts a plan to take that inheritance for himself, but the children may not survive once he has what he wants.

Sadly for these children (and for any readers who can’t stand this type of book) it seems all the adults, even well-meaning ones, are incompetent. Our protagonists try to turning to kind people for help, but no one can see what’s really going on. While I understand how this style does annoy some readers, I believe it’s a powerful metaphor for children in unfortunate situations themselves who feel the world is turning a blind eye to what’s really going on in their life. And all the more empowering because these kids don’t let the fact that there’s no knight in shining armor stop them from trying to save themselves.

I do recall that this series can become a little same old same old as you keep reading, but I’m only on book one so far in my re-reading, so I’ll call it out when it feels that way. I remember the plots as being similar in outline: siblings sent to new home, problem with new home, they resolve it, another something bad happens anyway to take away happy ending.

My favorite aspect of this series, however, is the wry humor. You’ll find ample instances of playing with both words and expectations in these pages, many of which actually make me laugh aloud (not an easy feat for such an avid reader). Delightful how unfortunate events can be so amusing.

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