I adore Lemony Snicket. I was quite overjoyed to discover he had a new series of books during a recent trip to Unabridged, my favorite local bookstore. Of course, the series started three years ago, so I’m a little behind on my book news, but that just means I have some fantastic catching up to do ahead of me.
I’m pleased to say that I found Who Could That Be at This Hour? (2012), the first book in the All the Wrong Questions series, as enjoyable as A Series of Unfortunate Events. Although you could read the two series independently, it’s probably best to have read ASUE first, as ATWQ serves as a sort of prequel, a fictional autobiography of Snicket’s involvement in VFD. The book starts when Snicket is 12 and about to embark on a train journey, when he escapes the two adults accompanying him and joins up with S. Theodora Markson, the lowest rated chaperone in the organization. The two travel to Stain’d-by-the-Sea, where they are in pursuit of the Bombinating Beast, a stolen statue that they have been contracted to return to its rightful owner.
Here Snicket continues what I love about the Series of Unfortunate Events books. While he may be writing for children, he never deigns to underestimate the intelligence of his audience and his writing is often very mature. I love his use and definition of big words, e.g., “‘penchant’ is a word which here means…,” and his asking surprisingly profound questions in simple circumstances. When he knows is chaperone is ringing the wrong doorbell, he writes: “It felt like the wrong thing to do… We did it anyway. Knowing that something is wrong and doing it anyway happens very often in life, and I doubt I will ever know why.” It is something kids will understand on a basic level when they are young, and will understand on a very different level when they reread the books much later. Few children’s and young adult authors possess this talent.
There are some wonderful references to beloved children’s book authors here that will be sure to touch elder readers’ hearts and, with any hope, inspire younger readers’ curiosity. Perhaps that’s what’s best about his writing. He doesn’t strive to be insular, but instead wishes to introduce his readers to a whole world of words and ideas beyond their present knowledge. For that he is worthy of a place on everyone’s bookshelf, regardless of age.