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