Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Bad Beginning



The Bad Beginning, Book one of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chapter 1:

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming, and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. I’m sorry to tell you this, but that is how the story goes.

Orphaned by a fire, the three Baudelaire children must pit every resource they possess to keep safe themselves and their inheritance from a greedy relative.

The Writing: Mr. Lemony Snicket’s writing style struck me a quite unconventional, and within the 160-odd pages of this mid-grade book, he seems to break every writing rule I’ve ever been taught. He tells the story instead of showing what happens. He jumps into different character’s thoughts at whim. He even gives the ending on the first page.

But he pulls it off brilliantly, and I no longer wonder at this series’ immense popularity. The voice is engaging, minus his tendency to explain the words in the text. (I’m guessing this was intended to be humorous, but personally I found it annoying and condescending.) As for that “unhappy ending,” it is basically little more than the hook for the next book seamlessly attached to where most authors would end the story. This provides the addictive power of this story: Your innate sense of good, evil, and justice drives you on because, if you’re like me, you can’t believe evil really wins in the end.

The Story: I love a good underdog story, and this mid-grade tale has—and basically uses—those elements. The problem with the story, however, is the underlying worldview. The whole basis appears to be that the world is nothing but a bunch of coincidences, our lives are the product of chance, and good will never win, not really.

The result is a dark book riddled with deep cynicism. I don’t find that kind of dark humor funny, which might explain my bafflement at this book’s genre of humor.

In addition, I find it somewhat perturbing that all adults in the story are portrayed as either evil and clever or kind and stupid, with the exception of the children’s parents whom you never meet. While I fully understand that child protagonists must solve their own problems, does every adult have to be dim-witted or evil?

Summary: While A Series of Unfortunate Events strikes me as brilliantly written, I recoil from its dark and hopeless outlook on life. Therefore I strongly recommend that this series is avoided by mid-grade readers, unless—under very strict adult supervision—they wish to read one (repeat one) book for a clear portrait of the hopelessness of a man without Christ and for understanding what their peers are reading.

Rating: 2 stars of 5

1 comment:

Eve said...

Welcome to CSFF blog tour group! I've made some great friends here and look forward to blogging with you :)