I’m debating whether or not I want to shorten these reviews down to one book at a time. As A Series of Unfortunate Events passes the halfway mark the length of the individual books continually expands, much like Harry Potter, matching the continually heightening reading level of those who the books are aimed. Part of my reasoning is silly. When I sit down to read this series my goal is to read a book in a single sitting, taking the time to read two books in a day. For the first four books this meant about an hour or an hour and a half of my time. Now it is beginning to mean over two. While the books remain good, sitting and reading these books for two hours at a time is quite somniferous. Though they do expand my vocabulary at times (see: Somniferous).
The real challenge in reading these books years after I was supposed to have read them is wanting to keep reading them after I have already figured out what the book has to offer me. Handler’s characters are all lampooning some part of society that we are confronted with each day, and it’s quite enjoyable to figure out the admittedly simple puzzle he is throwing at a reader. Yet once you have solved the puzzle it’s difficult to remain interested. All of these are silly things to say about a children’s book I am reading as an adult. I’m complaining about what I already knew I was getting myself into. Oh well. Onto my actual thoughts on specific aspects of the books.
The Ersatz Elevator is the sixth book in the collection and I believe it takes a bit of a step back in terms of both character creation and symbolism. The metaphor is quite interesting in that the new guardians of the Baudelaire children are Jerome and Esme Squalor: two fantastically rich people who have their own flaws that inhibit them from helping or even seeing the problems that the orphans face. Esme adopts the orphans because “Orphans are In right now.” She is a person who is purely living the aesthetic life (to speak in Kierkegaardian terms). Jerome, on the other hand, simply doesn’t want to be uncomfortable. As a result he won’t stand up for himself, argue, debate, break the mold, anything that could change the status quo. In the end it doesn’t matter that his intentions are good: his actions only reinforce the problems at hand. Olaf once again takes a step back from the narrative; so much so that he is irrelevant to the plot. But there is a nifty Thomas Pynchon reference that made me chuckle.
The Vile Village, on the other hand, furthers the arc of the narrative of A Series of Unfortunate Events in a couple ways. First, as quickly as it began, the Quagmire Plot Line has been ended, as they escaped. Secondly, the Baudelaires officially cut ties with those around them who are supposed to be taking care of them. There is a somber moment of recognition that they are truly on their own. That the answers they have been looking for are not going to be given to them. That the world, while not explicitly against them, is structured so as to make escaping their situation a near impossibility. Handler (Snicket) is at the top of his game in this book, honestly. For the first time I truly felt sad for the Baudelaires. Though you are aware immediately that the book will end horribly, it makes the end no less upsetting in this particular case. The Vile Village is possibly the most intriguing of the seven books so far in what it explores, which is the nature of laws and mob mentality. Handler’s main goal is to skewer the idea the laws are always just; that more of them is equivalent to more justice. The crowd (I’m very Kierkegaardian today, though that implies I am not that way every day) is not in the right. It knows nothing but the appetites.
And so on and so forth. Who knows, maybe the next Series of Unfortunate Events post will be about a single book. Though I doubt it.