A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

By Lemony Snicket; Harper Collins, 1999; pp 162

Plot: Meet the Baudelaire children. Fourteen-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus, and infant Sunny. Happy, rich (filthy rich), playing on a beach. In the opening chapter, readers learn that this book is not one with happy endings, nor happy beginnings when a family associate, a banker, strolls up the beach and unceremoniously informs them that their parents have perished in a fire. Equally unceremoniously he informs them that in keeping with their parents’ last will and testament they are to be raised by family, even if that family, the only remaining family is a creepy distant uncle, Count Olaf, who lives in the same city and who never made the effort to visit them when their parents were alive (or maybe their parents were creeped out by this distant relation?). Count Olaf is an unsuccessful theatrical actor, cruel, vile, and intent on getting his hands on the children’s immense inheritance. He is such a terrible actor that Violet can see through his flimsy plot, even if the adults in this tale cannot! Even if this conniving plot means a theatrical production in which poor Violet is wed to Count Olaf by a neighboring and unwitting judge. What else can Violet do? If she does not go along with the betrothal, then Count Olaf will drop Sunny to her death from his tower.

Review: If you are the type of reader who likes to be in on a secret and likes to be talked up to and not down to, then this book is for you. Author Lemony Snicket cautions readers in his opening sentence that “if you are the type of reader interested in stories with happy endings, you’d be better off reading another book.” As any parent knows, the best behavior modification is a dare. And with that dare, Lemony Snicket invites the fearless to join him as he introduces three happy children playing on a beach, and quickly informs them that their parents have been killed in a terrible fire. (Can’t say he didn’t warn you!) From there, it gets worse and worse, as the children are sent to live with their vile Uncle Olaf, who has one desire: to get his hands on the children’s immense inheritance. This tale takes the reader under the author’s and narrator’s tutelage and confides and edifies the readers by sharing the definitions of large words without a hint of condescension. How will the trio outwit the conniving Count when he has hoodwinked the well-intentioned adults who could possibly help?! Will the Count force young Violet to marry him to gain the inheritance? Will he kill he make good on his threat to kill Klaus and Sunny? If you are the type of reader who likes nail-biting drama, this book is for you.


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