111 The Austere Academy

austereacademyby Lemony Snicket, 2000

Fifth verse, same as the first. Snicket has yet to deviate from formula in The Austere Academy, the fifth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still enjoyable to read. In this installment we see the Baudelaire orphans transferred to the care of yet another idiotic adult, a Vice Principal Nero at Prufrock Preparatory School. The three are expected to do ridiculous things – Violet to memorize the stories of the boring Mr. Remora, Klaus to measure all the objects Mrs. Bass demands, and Sunny to serve as Nero’s administrative assistant – and no one believes them when they insist that the new, amazing Coach Genghis is really Count Olaf in disguise. To be honest, I’d have tired of this by now if it weren’t for Snicket’s cleverness, which continues to permeate each one of his stories.

I have to laugh inwardly at Snicket’s choice of Nero and Genghis as his characters’ names. Nero, of course, being a corrupt Roman Emperor and Genghis Khan being the violent Mongolian Emperor who, owing to his raping and pillaging ways, many claim as a direct ancestor. If kids miss out on the historical significance of these names, adults certainly will not, and I love that Snicket’s writing is so multi-layered. Likewise, Sunny’s language is becoming more developed and Snicket uses this as another way to imbue his book with his brand of humor. While her shrieking “Soup!” will certainly get kids to laugh, I also enjoyed her yelling, “Sappho!” when her siblings are discussing poetry.

Even if the story doesn’t deviate too much from the set pattern, we do get some advancements here. Most notably this comes in the form of Isadora and Duncan Quagmire, two of the Quagmire triplets who have mysteriously – and similarly – lost their parents and brother Quigley in a fire and stand to inherit the Quagmire sapphires when they come of age. And finally – finally! – we get our first mention of V.F.D. We don’t know what it means yet, but upon his capture by Count Olaf, Duncan yells that the Baudelaires must look in their notebooks for V.F.D. This is what I’ve been most excited to track, because while I remember what V.F.D. ultimately stands for, I don’t remember how we got there. I’m really looking forward to taking that journey again.

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