by Lemony Snicket, 1999
I don’t remember where I first saw the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, only that their presence caught my eye. Hardbacked without a dust jacket, deckle edged pages, a book plate on the inside cover, and beautiful artwork throughout, they were everything that physically appealed to me about books. They were clearly made by and for someone who loved the act of reading and the story contained within proved this to be true.
I was not going to reread the series before watching the Netflix show, but I am now struck with the inordinate need to refamiliarize myself with the Baudelaire siblings and their plight in toto. I have long wanted to do this to gain a better understanding of the story as a whole, so be aware that there will be spoilers in each of these reviews.
I am not one for happily ever afters, so the dark nature of the series immediately appealed to me. The premise is that three children – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire – have become orphans after a fire has destroyed their home and taken their parents’ lives. Banker and family friend Mr. Poe comes to deliver the bad news and places them, in accordance with their parents’ will, with their [geographically] closest living relative, Count Olaf. Olaf wastes no time in showing his nefarious side and sets about concocting a plan to get his hands on the Baudelaires’ large inheritance.
Reader, I will tell you that upon consuming The Bad Beginning, I fell in love. I remember when these stories were coming out and people were asking if this was trying to be the next Harry Potter. “It’s completely different!” I would say, rising to its defense. “And it’s written way better.” Because that is how I feel about this series. I love Snicket’s insertion of himself as narrator, warning readers away from the sad tale, defining words within the context of the story, offering nuggets of wisdom that it takes years for many of us to understand. I love the dark, disturbing subject matter – death, incestuous marriage, scorned love. I love that even when the adults try to do the right thing, they are often misguided in their actions. I found more truth here – and beautiful writing – than I had in many of the books I had read up to that point. I only regret that these did not exist when I was a child.
Now, I know that the series does not fully come together in the end, but I’m hoping that a close reread will allow me to follow the threads that I may have missed before, connect some errant dots, answer some of the questions that remain open. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to jump back into this series that I so unabashedly love.