So this book began to give me the inkling of what was bothering me about the tv show. I have not read these books before and I thought, well, I will read ahead of the show and all will be well. But they screwed me over. I didn’t know that not only would they ruin the big surprises of the books, most of which I haven’t even gotten to yet, but they would do so for no particularly good reason.
These books are mysteries. Plain and simple….in which a boy and a girl, with the help of their sister, use their ingenuity and intelligence to figure things out. The tv show basically just says “Lookit this!” and it sucks. Sure the acting is often quite good and fun, but can we not have something be good at what it was without changing. I don’t normally rant about tv shows or movies being different, but fundamentally undercutting something good for what I can’t yet tell is the value is really frustrating.
This book sends the students to the Prufrock Prep school. It’s funny because the more and more I read of the books, the less erudite they actually seem to me. Like Lemony Snicket remembers everything he learned at college, and is quite inventive, but never goes back to research them again.
This was the first of the books where I was actually a little lost as to what the goal of Olaf was, but that was ok because we got the Triplets, and I like them a lot. They remind me of Bart and Eliza from the Simpsons, but they clearly play an important role here. It’s also nice to see how slowly the narrative is unrolled and how we never know any more than the orphans.
This book had the great passage (hork hork hork) where the orphans are climbing the stairs and they keep going on and on and on. It also gives me the clear anxiety I feel at times in books and tv shows where people won’t just do what’s right. Yes, I can handle villains like Olaf being villains, because he’s consistent in that way, but people making absurd choices for frivolous reasons can upset me at times. I like that Esme turns out evil because it’s validating to not have liked her, but Jerome is the secret real villain of this novel.
He learns in a way that his lifestyle choices were corrupt and wrong, but at the wrong time, proving that the orphans are right not to trust any adult because we just let you the efff down. Over and over and over again. I like also that there’s some fun Thomas Pynchon jokes in this one. It’s funny because had I read this one when I was in college I MIGHT have gotten those jokes as I was just about to enter my Thomas Pynchon phase that would lead to a Crying of Lot 49 tattoo, you know the one, but I might have just missed it too. It was gratifying here, but also speaks to the idea that Lemony Snicket is an oversmart college boy throughout most of these books.
This book had what felt for the first time in all the books an actual locale. Not just a setting, but a place. I will explain the difference in a minute. The first three books felt like they all took place in the same town, and might have for all we know (they didn’t….so we know, but they could have). This one felt like for the first time a new place had been invented for the sake of the narrative. The Vile Village is a great location. I love randomly numbered rules and arbitrary enforcement. Actually, I hate them, but that’s what I liked about them. I also liked how much, even though the stakes are way way lower, this felt like the evil village from Resident Evil 4 to me. Something about a vaguely described village in the middle of nowhere that pulls out the most of my weird American fears. But then again, this novel brings up the weird sense of “Where do these stories actually take place?” about the novels. Am I wrong to think this feels like Europe? But everyone is definitely American. But this doesn’t feel like Shirley Jackson’s America…nor does it feel like an American version of JK Rowling’s England. Trying to place these is weird though….it’s like HP Lovecraft by way of Roald Dahl. Anyway, more satisfying mysteries. A goofy Olaf in this one and by far his least convincing. And for all that the tv show ruined so far for me, I gasped at Jacques Snicket as a reveal. Also I like a good moment in which deus ex machina as both a concept and a device are invoked in the same moment. Yay for the Triplets getting to a stable kind of place.
Elaborate file systems do not not make me think of Lemony Snicket as a churlish college boy. It’s so much Borges by way of Brazil when the orphans are looking through the file system. For one of the middle-length books, I thought this one felt kind of slight throughout. I like that they were in a real place with interesting set dressing, but the file system felt the least attached to the setting of the hospital. I also like the much more consistent playing around with the mystery at hand. Having VFD mean any and everything at this point, also a nice little Pynchonesque tactic, becomes a fun and funny way to mess with the orphans. I also like that even though parts of this one didn’t quite work for me, the setting a hospital is just a creepy-ass place, especially for kids. It’s rife with possible moral corruption and the breakdown of social contract. Esme is back, but so are the other henchmen. Having Klaus and Sunny hide as the white faced women was cracking me up.
Something that is definitely bothering more and more is how creepy everyone is getting about Violet getting older. The precariousness of the situations keeps edging closer and closer to her being in sexual danger and sure that’s real and creepy on purpose, but the book (Lemony Snicket) isn’t doing enough to establish its own boundaries around this as an idea.
It’s not quite what’s going on here, but having nightmare versions of places of childhood adventure sort of backfire is great. It’s not happening because the orphans are not putting themselves into these situations. But! The novels are sort of cycling through the different settings different adventure novels for kids tend to go for. We need a museum at some point soon to round it out….we’ll see….but it’s almost like a video game, especially an RPG cycling through different towns with different themes. I am thinking specifically of FFVII where you have the beach resort town, the snow town, the small town, a rocket town (will there be outerspace in these novels?), and like every good RPG, in one section a circus has rolled into town. Go figure. Or rather, they’ve rolled into the circus town. Carnival. It’s fine.
The scene with the orphans rummaging through Olaf’s costumes is really good because as a reader…I might assume at this stage that like the Orphans fear, this could go on forever. If I am reading after all the books have come out (I am) I can feel a kind of sense of dramatic irony or if I were really looking at the clues each book has 13 chapters (I think) so I could assume 13 books. Regardless, the fear that a trunk full of costumes has for was satisfying because among other things it made the orphans be a little self-aware narratively of how each of their different scrapes is shaped, while the readers, too, get to understand this.
I will likely read the last 4 book in the next day or two.