waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday [A Suitable Girl]

Waiting On Wednesday is currently hosted by Wishful Endings, and was previously hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

This is the first time I’ve done this particular list. I don’t often carefully follow up with series’ or books I’m really looking forward to reading. Books are expensive and when they’re just released they tend to be a little more so (or at least in my country), especially when they’re out in hardcover first. So I find it’s easier to forget about them till it comes to a time when I can actually practically afford to buy the thing. But some books just stay in your head.

Lately, this one’s been in my head a lot, because a friend of mine just finished reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and we’ve been constantly discussing it ever since. It’s Seth’s 1400+ page magnum opus about a cluster of families and their variable issues – some small, some big – in the political and religious tumult of post-independence India. The much-anticipated sequel, A Suitable Girl, has been talked of for the past couple months (maybe further back) but who knows when we’re actually going to see it in print. I know a lot of people here are quite excited, I definitely am – though it’ll probably take me two weeks to finish it.

A Suitable Girl

Author: Vikram Seth
Expected Publication: 10th Jan, 2019 (but who the hell actually knows)
Publisher: Orion

As per available news, A Suitable Girl is what Seth called a “jump sequel” set in the modern times, as opposed to A Suitable Boy which was published in ’93 and set in the 1950s. There’s not been much else about it really; it was supposed to be published several years ago (maybe around 2013) but Seth met with writer’s block and then had some personal issues as well as contractual issues (with Penguin). Apparently A Suitable Girl is supposed to deal with Lata Mehra’s (a major character in A Suitable Boy) search for a match for her grandson. It sounds like a romance-and-marriage novel but if you’ve read A Suitable Boy you’ll know that it deals with really everything under the sun, from government, politics and voting to families on various points in the economic strata and marriage deals, from religious strife and friendship to grief and young love, from internal family politics to…well I could go on forever. It really is an epic novel in that sense.

I think my hopes are definitely high for A Suitable Girl, definitely I can’t fault Seth’s writing or his immaculate way of capturing the voices of several generations in one go. But since this is a more modern sequel, I definitely hope that marginalised characters (women, the poor, those from the so-called ‘lower’ castes, etc) will be able to find some more agency and that will be spotlighted. India as a country today is a multitude of contradictions, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge to capture that, but we’ve come a long way from the 1950s for sure.

mini review

Mini Reviews [October 2018]

How the year has flown by. And how awful I’ve been at blogging. Well, not too bad, but I’m really bad at saying hi to people and reading other blogposts (the wordpress app isn’t great, I’ve got to say), which I realise is an essential part of blogging. As an introvert, I often find it difficult to approach people like that, but equally, I think saying “say hi!” is a bit too much to expect of others because I know there’s a lot of introverts out there. Anyway, let’s get to it. I’ve got to write better intros. I read a couple books. Here are some thoughts.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

1) Elmet (Fiona Mozley)
It’s practically impossible to tell what this book is about from the dustjacket, but essentially it’s a modern Robin Hood-esque kind of narrative about two children, Daniel and Cathy, and their father, living a life rooted to the land. This book has been praised for its linguistic lyricality and that’s definitely a huge factor in its favour; there’s a definite beauty to the way Mozley uses words. But there’s also (unexpectedly) a lot of sympathy to be found in these characters. And it’s been a while since I felt so emotionally invested in fiction (it doesn’t happen for me often) in a sense that I was touched and (naturally) totally helpless. I don’t think I went into this book expecting much (primarily because I had no idea what it was about), and I probably haven’t given you too many details. The plot isn’t very strong but I don’t think it was intended to be. But if you like thoughtful, strong prose and can handle a couple of tragic turns, I’d give this a go. I think a few people might find it slow; you can probably tell whether you’re up for it or not by the style of the writing, I suppose.

2) Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer)
Non-fiction, and what it says on the tin. This is primarily a US-centric narrative, and I read it for some research I’m doing, but I found it to be helpful, compact and well-researched. As you can imagine, it’s basically about the factory-farming system and the question of its sustainability and the morality operating behind it. It really does take a good look at the issue from all angles. I found it to be a good introduction to the animal rights issue as someone who’s relatively new to the theory of it. Some of it (I’m thinking of the chapter breakup images, specifically) felt a little gimmicky, but apart from that, I think it’s been really useful to me. If you’re new to the whole concept of how factory-farming flies in the face of animal rights, I’d definitely recommend it (bearing in mind that it works primarily to discredit the system).

3) Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
For some reason, I was under the (mistaken) impression that this was some kind of classic, you know, the way Poe and Jackson are. I was wrong. Or maybe I wasn’t wrong, I don’t know. Cathy (the narrator), her brother Chris, and their twin siblings are hidden away for what their mother promises will be a short time, for the greater good. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a short time at all. There’s only one thing to be learned from this highly disturbing mess: don’t let your mother lock you in the attic. Honestly, I’m not opposed to reading novels that come with their fair share of gruesomeness and horror, god knows my addiction to mysteries and thrillers means I’m always going to be reading this stuff, but this was just not my cup of tea. If it’s yours, I guess that’s cool. I’ve got nothing bad to say about it really, apart from that it’s extremely perverse for what I assume is sensational value, but a lot of books are. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I suspect it’s not really the kind of book anyone reads on recommendation anyway. On the advice of a friend I read up the summaries for the next couple books, because it’s a series. Then I felt exhausted. I drank some tea. This family is really messed up.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

4) The Party (Robyn Harding)
Advertised as a domestic drama, basically it’s another “everything’s perfect but everyone’s got secrets” story. Kim and Jeff think their kids are more or less perfect, so they’re more than shocked when a simple sleepover at their daughter Hannah’s sixteenth birthday party goes horribly wrong. This was really a very mediocre read, bit of a let down. I was disappointed a third in but was determined to finish it. The plot isn’t great, the writing is okay but nothing to write home about, and the characters (particularly the teens) seem a bit caricature-ish to me. No doubt it’s difficult for adults to write realistic teen characters, and kids are cruel, but I feel like this was a bit out there on the whole. Everything was explored at a very shallow level and the novel isn’t of much psychological interest despite the fact that several characters are driven by motivations that are more evil than good. I’d pass on this.

5) The Night Child (Anna Quinn)

This is a short, sensitively-handled piece of fiction about a high school English teacher, Nora Brown, married with a child (six year old Fiona whom she loves dearly) and haunted by something of a recurring hallucination. Reluctantly, driven to desperation and fearful that she’s losing her mind, she seeks therapy in order to understand the persistent image of a blue-eyed young girl whose face she keeps seeing. Maybe it’s because I’m a cynic, but there’s not much mystery to this novel – you can probably already tell what it’s about. That aside, I still think Quinn did a decent job with the difficult revelations held in this book, and she handled it with maturity. I think the strongest point in favour of the book is its exploration of emotional scarring, and although I thought the ending was a bit of a cop out, the book seems to have been written with a strong awareness of what she was dealing with on the author’s part. It’s not much of a mystery, but it’s short and I think, valuable for its insight.

I know I should be doing a full-length review at some point considering this is a book review blog, but nothing I’ve read recently has really warranted it. Time to start catching up on things, really.

mini review · top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday [The Longer Books]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

I apologise for the lack of posts, I’d been doing really well but lately I’ve been really busy and blogging has kind of taken a backseat. Anyway, I adore long books. Sometimes I will pick one book over another because it’s long. There’s definitely this weird (and incorrect) thought in my head that a long book is somehow worth more – which is obviously not true. However I can never read a long book as an ebook, so that’s always a downside. As a result, all the long books I’ve read I either own or have borrowed.  Here are some I’ve read.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

1) The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) 
At 848 pages, this isn’t as long as some but it’s hardly short. Basically it’s about prospecting in New Zealand in 1866 and, like any epic novel, features a wide cast of characters. It’s structured interestingly with parts of the book corresponding to phases of the lunar cycle (is that the right word, phases?), but like many other readers, I found this kind of unnecessary. I read it with some degree of interest because I knew virtually nothing about the West Coast Gold Rush, but I don’t readily recommend it to other people. (Sidenote: Catton’s debut novel The Rehearsal which deals with a high school scandal couldn’t be more different from The LuminariesI hesitate to recommend it, but if you’re interested you should look it up, and I really should find the time to reread it someday, because it’s just weird.)

2) Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
At 964 pages. I’ve already talked about this so I won’t go into it again, but if you’re interested in a long Russian novel about love and disillusionment, you can’t do better really.

3) A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
It’s 1474 pages and worth it. A friend and I have been eagerly discussing the much-awaited sequel, A Suitable Girl. Although the book is (for some reason lost to me) advertised as a love-and-marriage story, it’s about a lot of other things. It’s about so many things that I’m not even sure I could put them all together – marriage and love for sure, but also politics, religion, government, small families, big families, different families, card games, ceremonies, children…so much, really. If you’re looking for a long, detailed look at an independent India in the 1950s, this book can give you a pretty good picture.

4) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
At 1006 pages, this is a historical fantasy (ish?) novel set in England, dealing with two rival magicians. I really wanted to like this book (I say this a lot), and I very much liked the way it was written, with the occasional half-page long citation that made me feel I was reading something much more academic. But sadly, I didn’t really find much to like about the plot or the characters, and for a novel that’s relatively recent, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of women characters (the few who were included were of little importance and had hardly any agency).

5) The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
I think I’ve lost my copy of The Secret History and I must buy one immediately to remedy that loss. Last but not least, at 771 pages, The Goldfinch is the book I recommend much less than (but love probably just as much as) The Secret History. An adolescent boy who loses his mother carries one constant that stays with him (and the reader), throughout the novel: a painting. Some call Tartt pretentious (I’ve no doubt these claims are legitimate), but I genuinely love the way she writes. Some have compared her to Dickens which seems ridiculous to me (because I can’t stand him). Sometimes it’s that simple. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this as much had anyone else written it.

I’m very surprised I’ve managed to actually finish this list without falling asleep. I want to add that some of the longer books I plan to read (soonish) are War and PeaceBitter FruitThe Pillars of the EarthThe Neapolitan Trilogy and A Fine Balance (this is based entirely on a first-seen-first-served basis, depending on which books are in my line of sight, staring me down from my bookshelf as I type).

I apologise if this post is a little rushed and sloppy, I’m bone-tired. See you soon (the good thing about the word ‘soon’ is its vagueness).

book review · series

Snicket Series [Part 3]

In Intro

In short, I’m reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In long, check out

Part 1 | Part 2

People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict. – The Grim Grotto

On the Books

I think the most concise and effective way to express my feelings at present is through a incoherent howl of confused rage. On that optimistic note, I read the final three books of the series, for the first time, as I had not in fact read them before. (I think I’d kind of skimmed the eleventh ages ago, but not really read it properly). They are

The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril and The End.

With these books, naturally the series draws to a conclusion. First I want to say that I very much enjoyed the literary allusions and references, from the beautifully simple ‘The world is quiet here’ to other references drawn from Eliot and Carroll. I’m sure if the books are combed through by an ardent researcher there will be a hundred and one references to literature and other things, from ‘Baudelaire’ and ‘Beatrice’ to Virginia Woolf and Orwell. (Having googled it, I can confirm that several ardent researches have noticed a hundred and one things.)

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As I read through the eleventh and twelfth books specifically, I liked both the moral complexity which I discussed earlier and I also (as a reader) developed a kind of serenity in knowing that I would not really get the ending I wanted. In the last three (or four, really) books, the narrative just becomes a lot more interesting and mature. It stops becoming entirely about one incident after another, and it becomes more thoughtful, contemplative and therefore (to me), interesting.

The thirteenth book, The End, was the hardest for me. And I can immediately tell you why. Right from the outset, when I started rereading the first couple of books, I knew it was because I wanted to know how the series ended. I had no other real agenda; I’m not a huge fan of Snicket’s pedantry, his sense of humour isn’t exactly my thing, and therefore sections where he went on about this word or that situation which had no bearing on the plot became a drag for me. That is really my problem in a nutshell, because you should know –

The End  provides no answers. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. The reader learns nothing. We are given no satisfactory end, that in itself is an issue, because after a certain point Snicket admits he doesn’t know what the Baudelaires are doing now. We are given no real, concrete details about VFD. We don’t know anything about the sugar bowl. Nothing about why Count Olaf did this or that, why their parents allowed or facilitated their chain of incompetent guardianship (which, thankfully, is explained to some extent on the show, if not very well). We learn nothing. And therein lies my frustration.

I read the books because I wanted to know simply what happened at the end. That was the wrong reason for reading these particular books, that’s simply it. Snicket’s idea in the last book is that mystery upon mystery upon mystery is unsolveable, there is no way of knowing and there is no point. Snicket proceeds to expound a philosophy of sorts about surviving treachery. Around halfway through The End, I basically knew that answers would never come (firstly because the plot of the book was going in a direction that required it to reach some kind of end first, and in relation, there weren’t enough pages left for a proper ending). Two-thirds through, I gave up but kept reading. At the end of The End, alas, no answers.

So…I could rail against Snicket, but to be honest these books have been out for a while and there’s not much point – and besides, I feel it’s partly my fault, I should’ve known that it would end like this, with the way the plot was going. If we didn’t have any answers by book twelve it wasn’t suddenly going to show up in the final novel. Do I feel cheated? Yes. Do I feel like it was a cop out? Yes. Do I feel like Snicket could have achieved his philosophy without wholly compromising on revelations? Yes. And, do I feel an irrational rage stemming from the fact that Daniel Handler (the real Snicket, as it were) knows the truth behind the sugar bowl and refuses to tell? Oh, yes.

Should the books just be avoided entirely because of this reason? Not really. The gently sardonic and darkly comedic vein that runs throughout the novels has obviously appealed to many people, because it’s sold a ton of copies. Just because they didn’t fully appeal to me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appeal to you. But, if you’re reading this series because you’re expecting answers, because you like a semi-clean novel with at least a few things resolved, you shouldn’t read it. The end of the series is a mess. An interesting mess, but a mess nevertheless, that cannot be sorted. There are no answers to be had, unless you’re working them out yourself.

You cannot live far from the treachery of the world, because eventually the treachery will wash up on your shores. – The End

In short, I’m disappointed, but not really surprised. I wish there had been answers to a couple of main things, and the rest could’ve been left up to the audience to figure out. If the novels had resolved some things, I might just have reread the books to try to figure out something and have another look at the allusive content. But I’m not a rereader, and I know to think I will reread thirteen books (even if they are short) in the wistful and misleading hope for an answer is not something I can realistically expect of myself. I’ll just google everything instead.

On the Show

I have nothing bad to say about the show! I like it. I like that it’s been slightly updated for a more socially aware age, not in a way that’s very evident, of course, but in stray remarks here and there, and also with a character of Olaf’s troupe (the person of indeterminate gender) who wasn’t treated very fairly in the books. I like that they’re introducing certain things (which crop up in the books later) earlier (like the sugar bowl and VFD revelations). I’ve watched all of Season Two now, so we’ve ended with the events of The Carnivorous Carnival. Three books remain.

I think the show is also managing to strike a balance (unsteady and fragile though it may be) between the absurd nature of the books and a shot of logical reasoning (that is more present in the show) every now and again. And Violet’s outfits are lovely. The constant scene changes (which of course originated with the books) keep it interesting even though we know the formula.

When the third (and final) season of the show comes out I will definitely be watching it. I hope to be able to write up a post on it and also to reevaluate whether my thoughts on the books have changed. I also hope it won’t choose to end the series the way the books did. I really hope so.

All images (c) goodreads.com. All quotes attributed to the respective works (c) Lemony Snicket.

listicle · top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday [Quick Lit-Fic Reads]

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl with a new topic each week.

So the actual topic for this week is bingeworthy TV shows/amazing movies. But to be honest, I don’t watch a great deal of television, and I watch roughly two movies a year (does a third count if I’ve seen the first five minutes of Finding Nemo five thousand times?) so I thought I would twist this to the extreme and just stick to books. Literary fiction as a genre can sometimes produce more unwieldy, long and detailed novels, so I thought I’d list some that while maybe not ‘bingeable’, can be short and fast but interesting, condensed and striking reads.
PS, I’m slotting these under lit-fic for convenience’s sake. I think such boundaries are really more arbitrary than necessary.

1) Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh)
Eileen is essentially a single character study, and so deliberately focussed and detailed that it goes very fast. We spent 270 odd pages in the mind of a deeply insecure, self-aware and disturbed young woman living with her alcoholic father. There is actually not a great deal of significant action in this book until towards the second half, but even then the selling point of this book hinges on how Moshfegh sketches with precise detail the psychological state of very specific kind of person. Eileen is not especially likeable, but this is somehow very readable all the same.

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Image (c) goodreads.com

2) Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
I’ve yet to read anything else by Steinbeck, but this powerful and tragic novel about two ranch workers dreaming of a better future during the Great Depression has always stayed with me. The title is from a Robert Burns poem – “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry” – and the novel is a moving and almost painful elucidation of those lines.

3) The Stepford Wives (Ira Levin)
Written in 1972, this is a satirical novel set in the fictional town of Stepford. When photographer Joanna Eberhart moves there with her husband and children, she is disturbed by the women of the community who seem submissive to an extreme. An important novel, and almost chilling in its figurative implications.

4) In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Daniyal Mueenuddin)
I have been recommending this book to a lot of people, and I’m not entirely sure why. Sparsely linked but otherwise independent stories tell of class, family, and gender in a dying Pakistani feudal order. I think this has received its fair share of criticism and I’m not oblivious to its exclusions, but I enjoyed reading it, although I found it to be (especially in certain stories) perhaps more invested in individual characters than society as a whole.

Four will have to do because I can’t think up a fifth. That’s all, folks.

book review · series

Snicket Series [Part 2]

The sad truth is that the truth is sad. – The Hostile Hospital

In Intro

PS, may contain minor spoilers.

In short, I’m rereading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. In long, check out

Part 1

On the Books

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So the books I’ve finished so far are

The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, and The Slippery Slope.

I’ve finished ten books and there’s three more to go. From The Hostile Hospital onwards is when the three Baudelaire children start to…somewhat go rogue. Although they haven’t really done anything drastic thus far (and I suppose they wont?), they’ve certainly broken away from the chain of inept guardianship and have basically been forced into functioning on their own initiative. In many ways, the pattern of the books still remains somewhat as formulaic with the actions of Count Olaf and his troupe continuing in the same vein, and the fates of the few good characters are not altogether happy ones. But the Baudelaires are definitely becoming more and more active as agents in their own stories, and I do feel like we’re a little closer to the solution.

I think my favourite book of these four is definitely The Slippery Slope, and that’s where I noticed the most significant changes, and a sense of maturity in the general storytelling. Clues stop being easy enough for a kid to figure out; I mean, they’re still pretty simple but Snicket is definitely giving us the impression that there’s a very large jigsaw puzzle operating in these books and we only have a couple pieces. I’m not entirely sure the last book will leave me with enough answers, but the dynamics of the mystery operating around the Baudelaires are quite interesting, and it’s not as straightforward as a good guys or bad guys thing, which is something I think Snicket really started to set into motion from the first book, obviously with the adults being idiots. But it now becomes somewhat clearer.

With regard to the good guys/bad guys thing, one of the initial reasons I wanted to reread (and, in the case of the last two books, read for the first time) this series is because I read that over time, the Baudelaires would come to question whether they were becoming villains themselves. Now, thus far, this isn’t really the case. They’ve had moments of emotional vacillation of course, but I wouldn’t see them as anywhere close to ‘bad’. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
But, this has got me thinking about how we often talk about morally grey areas but we don’t often pause to inspect whether our actions are good or bad (or at least I don’t) as often as the Baudelaires do. I think we often see ethics as an abstract thing (which it is) to apply to other people, to other situations, to events not involving us. And of course morality is a difficult thing to grapple with, so it’s usually convenient to ignore it. The Baudelaires can seem like total martyrs at times and the only reason you don’t shove the book away is because they’ve been through a lot and I mean, it’s a children’s series so it’s a bit pointless to be annoyed. But they are astonishingly (and I’m sure, deliberately – on the part of the author) self-aware, and I think, on the whole, that’s not a bad thing to be at all.

If everyone fought fire with fire, the entire world would go up in smoke. – The Slippery Slope

I’ve waffled a bit but I think the good vs bad is an important theme in the book, and how Snicket decides to deal with it is interesting.

On the Show

Thus far, I’ve watched the remainder of Season One, and I’ve watched four episodes of Season Two. So, to make it clearer, I’ve reached the end of the events in The Ersatz Elevator. I’m enjoying it so far, especially all the beautiful and varied sets (Lake Lachrymose in The Wide Window is lovely).

I regret to say that the show actually makes me laugh more than the books did, I think simply because Snicket’s style of comedy just isn’t my thing. Occasionally I find it amusing but the repetition and “x phrase means y” isn’t really for me. I’ve tried to like it, but I don’t especially. I don’t hate it, which is possibly why I’ve managed to make it through most of the series, but anyway.

I really enjoyed the comedy in the Cafe Salmonella scene (The Ersatz Elevator); I think the screen somehow brings out the comic potential of the scene way more than the books did. It’s probably just me, but that’s a solid reason for why I’m actually enjoying the show. Also I like the actors, especially the ones playing the children, and the show seems to be doing its best to make Violet’s absurd inventions seem a little more feasible and workable on screen. Most of it is still ridiculous but at least it’s fun to watch.

I think hints of romance in The Austere Academy episodes were a bit rushed and unnecessary, but apart from that I don’t really have any criticisms. I hope the show stays on track, but diverges from the book when necessary.

All images (c) goodreads.com. All quotes attributed to the respective works (c) Lemony Snicket.

series

Snicket Series [Part One]

 

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. – The Bad Beginning

In Intro

So, I suddenly remembered that A Series of Unfortunate Events (the thirteen book series by Lemony Snicket, in case you’re unfamiliar) has been made into a Netflix show. While watching TV isn’t normally my thing I was interested to see how they’d adapt thirteen books, some of which I’d read as a child. As a kid, I bought most of them at some point or other, and read them, but I never read till the final book. Till date, I have no clue what happens in the end, and I’ve somehow avoided spoilers for it. I’m hoping that changes and I can finally finish the series now. I thought I would discuss the books as I read and the experience of reading them now, when I’m much older, a little wiser (maybe), and also maybe discuss the show too. I’m not really able to keep up with the show in the same pace as I am the books, so I’m afraid I’ll always be a bit behind, but it doesn’t hurt to discuss it.

A quick run down if you’ve not heard of the books (or seen the movie, which adapted only the first three books): A Series of Unfortunate Events is a children’s series by Snicket (the pseudonym of Daniel Handler) which follows the lives of three very unfortunate children (obviously) who lose their parents in a fire. Over the course of thirteen books the children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are pursued relentlessly by a scheming actor, Count Olaf, who is intent on getting his hands on the fortune their parents left for them. The tone of the novels is largely darkly Gothic, absurdist and somewhat formulaic. That said I did read (…on wikipedia) that things get more complex as we get further into the series, so maybe I’ll be surprised.

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On the Books

So up till now, the ones I’ve read (or reread, actually) are:

The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable MillThe Austere Academy, and The Ersatz Elevator.

It took me a surprisingly short amount of time, and I’d forgotten how light and readable these books are, in spite of Snicket’s dire warnings to the contrary. I’ve more or less finished with The Vile Village too, but I think it’s better to restrict this post to six books. Thus far, the children have endured their ridiculously unqualified lawyer Mr. Poe, Count Olaf in various disguises and his motley troupe, a herpetologist uncle, a somewhat omniphobic aunt, a mill where they had to work, a school where they were miserable, and a building sky-high with a very very very steep fall involving an elevator.

“If someone had told me, that day at the beach, that before long I’d find myself using my four teeth to scrape the bark off trees, I would have said they were psychoneurotically disturbed.” – The Miserable Mill

I can’t say I fully enjoy the style of the books, at times Snicket’s repetition gets a tad annoying, and I think people who find this a little grating would absolutely start to hate this series after a while because writing style and plot sequence are both totally formulaic. However it’s still interesting to see how I perceive the books now as opposed to when I read them as a kid. I had no idea that Prufrock Preparatory School (the boarding school where the children are sent to in The Austere Academy) was a reference to anything but now of course I’m a bit clearer on that. Sunny’s nonsense words which only people who know her very well can understand sometimes take on a new meaning (I’m sure, intended), such as when Klaus mentions Scylla and Charybdis and she chirps the word ‘Glaucus’. Also, if Snicket’s letters to the editor, concluding each novel faithfully are taken to be true (true within the realm of fiction that is), he leads a life that’s almost as exciting as the Baudelaires. I also didn’t realise that all the people who were so ridiculously inept in this novel were adults. I don’t think a single adult is ever useful to the children, at least, not thus far.

The things I hope I won’t be disappointed about when the time for revelations finally dawns are: the mystery of the Baudelaires generally, how they actually ended up in Olaf’s clutches in the first place, what VFD actually is (sorry for anyone who hasn’t read that far, I’m just actually curious), why Snicket chose to write about them, Snicket’s relationship with Beatrice, Beatrice herself…so there are a lot. Of course if the last book closes without satisfactory answers to these questions I will be more than a bit disappointed but maybe I’m pinning too many hopes on the books, which were, after all, designed for a younger readership.

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On the Show

I’ve thus far seen the first four episodes of the Netflix series, so The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room, and while I haven’t been bowled over, I like it. It’s not really a show you can binge-watch, due to the formulaic nature. Watching it alongside the books means it’s easy to notice bits lifted verbatim, but there have also been some revelations in the early episodes themselves that haven’t been revealed in the books (although I’m beginning to think the show has diverged from the books in some ways). With having cast an actual narrator as Snicket the show sometimes seems a bit too faithful to the books in terms of dialogue, but perhaps this is unfair for me to say because they’ve been original in some ways and anyway, taking a route too different from the books might lead to its own set of criticisms.

I think the children are portrayed as somewhat less naive; not that they’re exactly naive in the novels, but they are less trusting of Uncle Monty (in The Reptile Room) so I can only imagine how increasingly pessimistic and exhausted they’ll grow as they’re passed on from guardian to guardian. My first impression of the character of Count Olaf was that he was far more of a comic than the book character, but he seems to be juggling both comic potential and an edge of danger efficiently. I’m curious to see where the show goes and how they portray the continually betrayed Baudelaires and the variety of villains, not just Olaf, because it’s difficult to build character development and emotional development in an inherently ridiculous setting (which the books definitely are, I mean, very little is realistic in the novels). I think it might be a bit more sensible than the books. So, yes, looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Everybody will die, but very few people want to be reminded of that fact. – The Austere Academy

This post has gotten very long. If you were/are a fan of the books/show or have any other thoughts, let me know!

All images (c) goodreads.com. All quotes attributed to the respective works (c) Lemony Snicket.