A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First: The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning

“Wait, is he serious?” You say to yourself as you open this blog post. You came here because of a link to a review of Gravity’s Rainbow and when you click “home” you see a review of… a Lemony Snicket novel? You mean the children’s author? That Lemony Snicket?

Well yes, I do mean that particular Lemony Snicket. For you see, I loved these books as a kid. I read them in the 7th grade for the most part, though I had to wait a couple years for the final book, The End, to finally appear on shelves. I remember laughing endlessly at the fractured narratives in which Snicket would interrupt the story with explanations of common phrases that are not saying the truth of what the phrase actually means when a person says it, or simply to interpolate with some solid advice about life: “Well-read people are less likely to be evil.” A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children’s series that serves as an introduction to postmodernist writing style. It hinges itself upon a fractured narrative, constant breaking of the 4th wall, absurd situations, characters that one has difficulty becoming close to (essentially that they are just there to exist, not for the reader to get close to), paranoia, dark humor, etc. The list continues.

I’ve wanted to return to the series for about year now for, more than anything, the purpose “returning to my roots” as a reader. In school I was a notorious bookworm, but for some reason I remember very few of them beyond The Lord of the Rings. In high school I became obsessed with Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, but that has not lasted into whatever adulthood is supposed to be. I was speaking with a friend about YA fiction, mainly going over reasons we’re not really into it, though he very nearly despises it, while I have exceptions that I can’t help but love (Harry Potter). As we tried to recall YA books we read growing up, I became painfully aware that simply couldn’t remember any. I read so many, yet none of them stuck with me. Though I had been intending to re-read the famous Lemony Snicket series for awhile, I was struck upon reflection that A Series of Unfortunate Events is the only thing I remember from the 7th Grade. Yet not only do I remember it, I remember loving it more than almost anything I had ever read in my life (Lord of the Rings).

Primarily I wanted to know, when I bought the first couple books in the series, if the series still holds up for me. There is a dangerous game that you play when you return to things you loved as a child, as often times it becomes apparent that what you loved is now terrible. If you have never read any of it, I would encourage you to read the blog Blogger Beware as it is simply astounding. On Blogger Beware, the author reads Goosebumps novels and reflects upon them. There are times in which the humor of the blog is obviously entwined with a little bit of disappointment, due to just reading something that is simply bad that you once thought was fantastic. It’s a scary thing to find out for yourself just how much you’ve changed, whether from simply a shift of views (Why I don’t read Frank Peretti anymore) or maturity (Why I was a little worried about reading Lemony Snicket Again). So.. the big question, here rather than at the end: Does The Bad Beginning still hold up?

Yes, it does. This is not to say it is as wonderful as the first time I read it. At this point I am all too aware of the difference in the pacing of a Children’s novel than one for adults, so most of my negative feelings towards the book are irrelevant. They are simply, “Well you’re reading a book for kids, what did you expect?” What I was most pleasantly surprised with is simply this: The book succeeds in what it does better than quite a few books. The Circle or William Gay’s Twilight come nowhere close to being as good as The Bad Beginning, and I know that The Bad Beginning is certainly the most underwhelming book in the entire series. It simply sets up Good (The Baudelaire siblings) vs. Evil (Count Olaf) and then rushes to the finish so Snicket can do the rest of the series.

What is striking in the novel that I simply couldn’t have picked up on as a kid is the incessant referencing to banks. The Orphan’s inheritance is controlled by the bank. Where they live is controlled by the bank. All the characters’ lives are entwined through the bank in some way. The book is very simple in its purpose: “Look what money does to us.” The children’s happiness is always compromised by what the bank must execute through a will. The underlying point, whether it be Mr. Poe’s upholding of the letter of the will despite the children’s protesting, or the twist at the end of the book concerning the letter of the law, is that sometimes society’s laws and regulations are not for you. They are not for your happiness or well-being. They are simply part of a system that was already in place that you are forced to be a part of. To my reading, this is why everyone in the book is absolutely miserable at all points.

Now some in-house cleaning: Fear not, reviews of literary fiction are still on their way, I have not switched this to a Blogger Beware-style blog. If you are so curious, Fyodor Dostoevsky is waiting in the wings. But, I can imagine that predominately over the next few weeks there will be a lot of A Series of Unfortunate Events, as I am in grad school and I only have so much time. “So you read Dostoevsky?” – my readers, probably. Yeah, I like being a miserable grouch at all times. Also, I have the second book in the RRHS series coming up. Finally, let me just express a big thanks to all the people who have been reading this blog as of late. My happiness is tied to both views and likes on Facebook, so I’m doing just fine at the moment.

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