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The Basic Eight Paperback – March, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Flannery Culp is 19, precocious, pretentiousAand incarcerated. Accused of Satanism and convicted of murder, she and her seven friends (the "Basic Eight") have been reviled and misunderstood on the Winnie Moprah Show and similar tabloid venues. So Flannery has typed up and annotated the journals of her high school years in order to tell her real story: "Perhaps they'll look at my name under the introduction with disdain, expecting apologies or pleas for pity. I have none here." Handler's sharply observed, mischievous first novel consists of Flannery's diaries from the beginning of her senior year to the Halloween murder of Adam State and its aftermath. The journals detail Flan's life in her clique of upper-middle-class San Francisco school friends, who desperately emulate adulthood by throwing dinner parties and carrying liquor flasks. Kate ("the Queen Bee"), Natasha ("less like a high school student and more like an actress playing a high school student on TV"), Gabriel ("the kindest boy in the world" and in love with Flan) and the rest begin experimenting with the hallucinogen absinthe. Squabbles once easily resolved grow deeper and darker when Natasha poisons the biology teacher who has been tormenting Flan. Should the Basic Eight turn on, and turn in, one of their own? Handler deftly keeps the mood light even as the plot careens forward, and as FlanAnever a reliable narratorAbecomes increasingly unhinged. The links between teen social life, tabloid culture and serious violence have been explored and exploited before, but Handler, and Flannery, know that. If they're not the first to use such material, they may well be the coolest. Handler's confident satire is not only cheeky but packed with downright lovable characters whose youthful misadventures keep the novel neatly balanced between absurdity and poignancy. (Apr.) FYI: The Basic Eight has been optioned for film by Bridget Johnson, producer of the hit film As Good As It Gets. Handler's second novel, Watch Your Mouth, will be published by St. Martin's in winter 2000.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

First novelist Handler has all the teenage issues down patAbelonging, power, loyalty, drugs, and body imageAas he sets about proving just how dangerous high school can be. As Flannery Culp edits her journal of the previous year in prison, we follow Flan and her friends (the Basic Eight) through the fall of their senior year. Adults are generally absent, except for a few teachers who matter. Flan's beautiful friend, Natasha, is worth close attention. Handler's writing is witty and perceptive, especially as schools and society are parodied, and he makes clever use of vocabulary and study questions. But as a brutal murder unfolds and lives are ruined, the "wonderful, wicked fun" promised by the book jacket faded for this reviewer. The novel has been optioned for film, so expect to see it on the screen, a tragedy larger than the Othello Flan's drama club is staging. Recommended with reservations.ARebecca Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; Reprint edition (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253738
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,915,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daniel Handler's new novel for adults is the highly-anticipated We Are Pirates, which Bloomsbury published in February, and Neil Gaiman says is, "Honest and funny, dark and painful. We Are Pirates reads like the result of a nightmarish mating experiment between Joseph Heller and Captain Jack Sparrow. It's the strangest, most brilliant offering yet from the mind behind Lemony Snicket."

Daniel Handler is also the author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs, and, with Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up, which won the Michael J. Printz Honor. He also worked with Kalman on the book Girls Standing on Lawns and Hurry Up and Wait (May 2015). Handler also edited The Best Nonrequired Reading of 2014, which includes an introduction by Lemony Snicket

As Lemony Snicket, he has written the best-selling series All The Wrong Questions as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events, which has sold more than 60 million copies, was the basis of a feature film starring Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep, with Jude Law as Lemony Snicket. In 2014, Netflix acquired rights to produce an original series based on A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Snicket is also the creator of several picture books, including the Charlotte Zolotow Award-winning The Dark, illustrated by Jon Klassen. His newest picture book is 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy illustrated by Lisa Brown. Other Snicket titles include the picture book 13 Words, in collaboration with Maira Kalman, as well as Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography, The Beatrice Letters, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid, and two books for Christmas: The Lump of Coal and The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: a Christmas Story. He is currently working on the final book in the All the Wrong Questions series; Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? (Sept. 2015).

His criticism has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Believer, where he is has a column exploring the Nobel Prize in Literature titled "What The Swedes Read." He recently wrote the inaugural dispatch for the Wall Street Journal's new monthly feature on literary cocktails, "Message in a Bottle," and the foreword for Tin House's reissue of Bernard DeVoto's The Hour. Handler has worked as a screenwriter on the adaptation of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, as well as the independent films Rick, based on Verdi's opera, Rigoletto, and Kill The Poor.

In a recent interview with PEN American Center, he said, "My parents claim that when I was six years old I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my answer was that I wanted to be an old man who lived at the top of a mountain giving advice. If this story is true--and my parents are unreliable narrators--then there was a time in my life when I did not want to be a writer. But I do not remember such a time. I do not remember a time when I was not writing things down. I do not remember a time when I was reading without thinking of how I could poach the tricks of my favorite writers. All I have ever wanted was to be in the company of literature."

Last year, Handler established, in partnership with the American Library Association, the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity, which was awarded in Las Vegas in June.

Handler works extensively in music, serving as the adjunct accordionist for the music group The Magnetic Fields and collaborating with composer Nathaniel Stookey on a piece commissioned and recorded by the San Francisco Symphony, entitled "The Composer Is Dead", which has been performed all over the world and is now a book with CD. He is currently at work on a commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company on a stage musical in collaboration with songwriter Stephin Merritt.

He is a graduate of Wesleyan University, and lives in his native San Francisco with his wife, illustrator Lisa Brown, and their son.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The New Yorker called this one of the best first novels of the year, and I wholeheartedly agree. I read this book awhile ago, and I've been watching, with amusement, the love-hate relationship that people are having with it on this site. What seems clear is that some people are completely misunderstanding this novel. To call it shallow, silly and stupid is to insult the narrator, not the book. I think Handler does a splendid job of hiding a gripping story in between the lines of his character's diary--a character who is, after all, a high school girl, and it needs to be read twice, not because it's William Shakespeare but because there's a twist ending which makes you go back and see how well the author planned the whole thing out. This novel isn't for everyone--only for people intelligent and engaged enough to tell the narrator from the author. (And no, just for the record, I'm not the author's friend, agent, whatever...)
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Format: Paperback
. . . but anyone who loves black comedy should read it -- twice. At first, this book seems like it's just going to be a wild romp through high school -- complete with kids who throw lavish dinner parties in sculpture gardens and drink cappuccino at coffee bars with names like Bean and Nothingness or Death Before Decaf. Only hitch is, we already know that the seemingly sweet ("fat", dowdy, lovesick) anti-heroine, Flannery Culp, has been convicted of the Satanic murder of her crush, Adam State in one of the media events of the century. How could this happen? The rest of the book is a puzzle, and we get it in pieces. From Dr. Eleonor Tert (a formerly drug-addicted flight attendant turned guru), Winnie Moprah (no relation, I'm sure), and even Guiness Book-reciting Flora Habstadt (who, Flannery assures us, was never one of the Basic Eight). And especially, from Flannery, who interrupts her perpetual prison solitaire game to explain how her love notes to Adam, experimentation with absinthe (Poe's drug of choice), her calculus teacher's command to "do something" (surely he didn't mean murder), and particularly, her coffee dates with the glamorous Natasha lead to . . . well, read it and find out.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having read the first eight Lemony Snicket books to my daughter, it occurred to me that the literary output of the author's legal, literary, and social representative, Daniel Handler, might be equally delightful. I was not disappointed. *The Basic Eight* is a gem of a book. It grows on you as you read, building eventually into a book that cannot be put down--particularly toward the end of October in the narrative--and it leaves you thinking about it long after you've read the last page.

Mr. Handler, moreover, is a wonderful writer. The plotting of the book is masterful, and the pages are littered with beautiful, apt phrases/sentences--pearls, one might say--which one wants to linger over--over which one wants to linger. (For example, on p. 280: "I craned my neck to see who this person was, raised by wolves in some San Francisco wilderness and finally escaping by public transportation.")

Some reviewers have complained of inconsistencies in the narrative over the figure of Natasha--I'll not be more specific, as this isn't a spoiler. But, while I haven't reread the book to verify that everything is thus explicable, I think the point is that the whole story is being told through Flan's rather unreliable perspective. Surely that is explanation enough?
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By A Customer on August 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
I was ready to NOT like this book, because of the reviews that said how clever and precious it was. And, at first, I hated the characters as much as I would have as a teenager. But once the scene was set and the action started going down, I couldn't stop reading. I have to say that this book was just plain well written and drags you into its world, even if (like me) you might have preferred to stay out. The emotional candor the narrator speaks with (with which the narrator speaks) while losing control of her mind is terrifying and absorbing.
There are a few clevernesses sprinkled about that call more attention to the author than the story (the last time I saw him was at the corner of California and Styx? Come on.) but even with those flourishes the story remained strong. So much emphasis has been placed on the "dark comedy" and "pretentiousness" of this book that I was surprised to find it such a solidly written work. So even though I didn't want to like it, I have to admit it's got me beat. It's a good book!
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Format: Paperback
This book is told through a series of journal entries (more or less) written by one Flannery Culp, who is compiling them for publication. The beginning of the book is rather discombobulating, because a lot of details and people are referenced as though you, the reader, already know most of what she's talking about. What becomes clear fairly quickly is that Flannery was embroiled in an extremely well-publicized crime in which she was convicted of murder. So, the book isn't at all traditional in the sense that rather than wondering if Flannery will get the guy and live happily-ever-after, we instead know exactly what everything in the book must be leading up to. This really makes this book one of those that's more about the journey then, since the real intrigue is all wrapped up in learning about the events that lead up to that fateful night and figuring out what made her do it. By and large, I was amused by this technique, although it did have its failings. Specifically, once you reach the point in the book where the murder has occurred, the rest of the novel feels extremely drawn out as Flan & co. try to cover up the deed (as well as another twist or two that I'll remain silent on). Sure this is realistic aftermath, but given that you already know she's gong to get caught, it all seems a little bit irrelevant. That being said, I felt as though the book ends somewhat abruptly and leaves several loose threads which, given the choice of a diary narration, could easily and unassumingly have been addressed.Read more ›
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