The Baudelaires drifted along in cold, dark silence, feeling afraid and confused and strangely lonely. – The Grim Grotto
After reading Book 11 The Grim Grotto in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a heretofore unknown thalassophobia has seized me. Maybe that’s why this book in the series seemed the darkest thus far. For background on the series, see my review here.
Calling this the grimmest book of the series is saying something. The Baudelaire orphans have been on the run from the villainous Count Olaf for 11 books, full of fear, murder, loss, danger, and snubbed puttanesca. Here the brother and sisters hurtle down the once-solid-ice slippery slope of the last book in a homemade toboggan, ending up in the submarine of a boisterous captain and his step daughter Fiona. Fundamentally a good sort, Captain Widdershins punctuates all his sentences with a loud “Aye!”, including the motto “He who hesitates is lost.” Fiona is an avid researcher like Klaus, specializing in fungi. They are all trying to find a lost sugar bowl that is important to the members of the mysterious V.F.D., a group that has experienced a schism into light and dark.
The Baudelaires and Fiona eventually leave the submarine to search for the sugar bowl, which they think is located in a deep grotto under the water. They are decked out in large, heavy diving suits, except for the youngest Sunny who is curled up inside a helmet. The scenes of them deep underwater are genuinely eerie. The children are alone for miles in pitch black water. I felt claustrophobic just reading about it.
I don’t want to give away too much, but eventually their adventure turns dire. They return to find an abandoned and broken submarine and are soon captured by Count Olaf, whose submarine is shaped like an octopus and powered by dozens of young children forced to row the vessel through the deep.
One of the things I love about the books is the sense of humor that runs throughout. But The Grim Grotto also has some moments of tension and sadness, which give the story a sad weight that I appreciated. There is a profound passage that expresses the many shades of loss and the way people remember those who have died:
“It is often difficult to admit that someone you love is not perfect, or to consider aspects of a person that are less than admirable. To the Baudelaires it felt almost as if they had drawn a line after their parents died—a secret line in their memories, separating all the wonderful things about the Baudelaire parents from the things that perhaps were not quite so wonderful. Since the fire, whenever they thought of their parents, the Baudelaires never stepped over this secret line.”
This moment was sad but also true. When I remember people I’ve lost, it’s hard to remember them as whole people with many facets. But when you let your memories more truthfully fill in the outlines, the complex truth of who people were in life seems more important than the comfort of a perfect past.
I love these books, and The Grim Grotto is no different. I only have two books left in the series; I’ll be sorry to leave these whimsical, adventurous, funny, dark books behind.