Top critical review
38 people found this helpful
on May 14, 2008
I realize I'm in the minority here when it comes to these books which have been a smash hit and I'm actually a huge fan of YA lit, love HP, Francesca Lia Block, Madeleine L'Engle, John Bellairs, Beverly Cleary etc.
I'm up to Book 12 of the Snicket books and it's gotten to the point where I'm skipping whole paragraphs just to get through. Not only is the narrative repetitive - e.g. the kids' habits, hashing through the feelings of each of the three children for EVERYTHING (Violet felt blah blah, Klaus felt blah blah, Sunny the youngest Beaudelaire felt blah blah) - but the books repeat themselves as well. A lot. And the initially charming quirkiness and the literary in-jokes that get more sophisticated in the later books aren't enough to save them.
In each book, you're guaranteed to have Snicket open and tell you how woeful the tale is and warn you to turn back (he will do this again several times later in the same story usually near the end). Then he will at some point explain often extraneous facts that have been established in the other books so that the actual new plot of the story seems to get smaller and smaller as the series progresses though the books remain pretty slim. Then Violet will tie up her hair with a ribbon and Snicket will explain many times that this means she's inventing and he will have the other characters comment on that as well (e.g. Klaus said, "Violet, have you thought of something?" or Klaus and Sunny knew that when Violet tied her hair up, she was inventing. or Klaus explained, "When my sister ties her hair up with a ribbon, it means she's inventing." - Snicket is really good at thinking up a million permutations of this and putting half of them in the book).
A critic said once that the books are less about the substance than style so if you can stomach Snicket's melodrama which is funny at times and vexing at others, transparent plots (ok, who didn't know that was Quigley?) and very slow-moving, meandering, repetitive repetitive repetitive narration, good for you. If I had read these at age 12 before expanding my literary repertoire, I might have been ok with all that. It's hard to believe however that even an avid reader like Klaus would tolerate this formulaic drivel.
I do recommend, even though these books champion reading and libraries, the excellent audio books if you are trying to slog through these. Most are read by Tim Curry (a few by Dan Handler) and they feature music by the Gothic Archies, which is excellent of course (Yay Stephin Merritt). Curry brings a nice dramatic flair to the work, though I still found myself fast-forwarding through the rehashed plot points. The main characters are actually starting to grate on me a lot - ok, their lives are harsh so they cry all the time but Snicket hasn't written it in a way where I actually care about them so the constant forced "sitting and crying quietly" is really annoying and gets in the way of plot advancement.
Secretly, I think Snicket gets away with such skinny books because it takes so long to wade through all the heavy-handed writing. You don't soak in fine prose so much as sit in wordy quicksand waiting for him to get to the pointv . I guess that's an appropriately unfortunate, woeful, and lamentable if ironic way of telling these stories.
They're probably good to read as bedtime stories if you really want to freak your kids out. The violent imagery (the Bros. Grimm would be proud) is the maraschino cherry on the pile of whipped fluff. Also, they look good on a shelf.