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Decent introduction to a series that gets much better
on April 17, 2001
Lemony Snicket's childrens' books collectively entitled _A Series of Unfortunate Events_ have received a certain amount of notice. I decided to give them a try. The schtick is that the books all involve unpleasant things happening to our heroes, a virtuous and intelligent trio of siblings, and that the endings are all unhappy. So it is with the first book, _The Bad Beginning_.
I admit to not being overwhelmed by the first book: I think it's the weakest of the series. But it's still worth reading, and note that the succeeding books get quite a lot better. I should add that my 11 year old daughter, after some hesitation ("Why would I want to read books about terrible things happening to kids?") tried them, and has become quite addicted.
The book opens with the three children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, alone at the beach when they learn that their house has been burned down and their parents have died. Things get worse as they are shuffled from the unpleasant home of their parents' executor, a banker named Poe, to the even more unpleasant home of their new guardian, a distant relative named Count Olaf. The Count covets the considerable fortune which is held in trust for the children. Eventually he concocts a diabolical scheme to gain control of the money, but at the last moment he is foiled (in a very unlikely fashion). This sounds like a happy ending, but Snicket pastes on a bit of a downer at the end to keep to his promise.
This book is interesting and a decent read, but in the end it was mostly gimmick. The writing was funny in spots, but not quite funny enough, and a bit precious. And the plotting wasn't really sufficiently inspired. Moreover, I was not able to forget the implausibility of the whole setup -- which I think more inspiration in the writing and plotting might have managed. Happily, the writing, at least, is better, funnier, archer, in the other books: or perhaps one simply becomes attuned to the voice. One of the great ongoing delights is the hints of his "personal life", apparently at least as unhappy as that of the Baudelaire children, that the author insinuates into the books. If _The Bad Beginning_ is not a complete success, it is an introduction to a so far quite satisfying series of stories.