I read some of these, years ago, with my eldest daughter, Tilly, and rather enjoyed them.My son, Oscar picked The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, the first in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as his read for school over the Christmas holidays this year. I wondered if they had held up in the intervening years, and was intrigued to know what Oscar would make of them.
I admit that I found the first book rather slow on second reading. It may be that the novelty has long since worn off. Many books in a similar style have come and gone since Lemony Snicket first became a publishing sensation, and maybe I have become innured to them. It doesn’t help that having read the book before, there was none of the need to find out what happened on my own part, that drove me the first time I read it.
Oscar enjoyed it, although not in a driven way. He didn’t beg to read it every day, as he has some of the things he’s chosen. He was quite measured in his enjoyment of the book, and I wasn’t sure he would choose to read any more after he’d finished this one. Surprisingly, and after a fair amount of thought, he has decided to carry on with volume two. We shall see if he perseveres with the entire thirteen volumes. His enjoyment was tempered rather by the fact that he has seen the film of the book, which although not entirely faithful to the original story, has enough similarity that perhaps there wasn’t enough to entirely grip him here. He did enjoy it more at the end, where it was obvious that the book was not going to end in the same way as the film.
If you are unfamiliar with the tale, it tells of the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, who are deprived of their parents in a terrible house fire. Violet, as the eldest, is left with the Baudelaire fortune, which is considerable, tied up in trust for her when she comes of age. In the meantime, the orphans are first left with Mr. Poe, their parents financial advisor, a well meaning but weak and useless man. They are passed on by Mr. Poe to their relative Count Olaf, a man they have never met before, who, it turns out, is a deranged egomaniac with designs on the orphans fortunes. The town in which the book is set is never named but is a strange and eerie place in which the normal rules of society as we know it, do not hold true, which allows for the terrible things which happen to the children to happen without question from any of the inhabitants of the books.
Count Olaf takes them off to live in his squalid, run down house, and treats them like slaves, until he comes up with a dastardly plan to access the children’s fortunes.
The book is surreal, dark, and creepy, with a strangely comic edge, which will no doubt be appreciated entirely by grown ups, as it is entirely too strange for most child readers. The vocabulary of the book is complex and demanding, although Snicket, as the author, does take pains to explain some of the words he uses as the plot develops.
The entire plot is surrounded by a strange sub plot involving the author himself and the publication of the story.
The books are beautifully put together with wonderful Edward Goreyesque illustrations by Brett Helquist, and the original hard back covers have gorgeous end papers to match.
I recommend this for confident readers, boys and girls, aged 8 to 12. The chapters are short and succinct and the story whips along with enough intrigue and oddness to make children want to continue to the end of the story, although the adventures are not closed off, and you have to read the entire series to find out what happens in the end. They would make great bed time reading for months, with each chapter coming in at about ten, short pages, and plenty of cliff hangers to keep children guessing.