I adore children's books, and A Series of Unfortunate Events in particular. Lemony Snicket beautifully manages to balance the far-fetched fantastical...moreI adore children's books, and A Series of Unfortunate Events in particular. Lemony Snicket beautifully manages to balance the far-fetched fantastical plots of childhood with the dark and serious undercurrent that lies beneath all good children's fiction. Snicket is an heir to Roald Dahl's dark sense of humor.
The style is delightfully consistent, while growing in linguistic difficult, sardonic humor and plot complexity as the children age. Occasional turns of phrase catch my eye and make me laugh, even in this first and simplest book. The characters are compelling and interesting but also very simple and easy to love.
For this and the following books, Snicket harps on the idea that many children's authors touch tangentially: that adults, even when well-meaning and kind, are often unhelpful. Hampered by their fears and weaknesses, the adults that surround the unfortunate Baudelaires are ever more malicious, impotent or misguided. While as an adult I don't know if this an excellent moral for children, I know that as a child I would have been fascinated by the self-sufficiency of these orphans in an antagonistic world.(less)
The wacky slang dialect in this book saved it for me. Tracing out word origins and figuring out the precise meaning of different vocabulary words made...moreThe wacky slang dialect in this book saved it for me. Tracing out word origins and figuring out the precise meaning of different vocabulary words made reading this malenky novel a bit fun.
Besides the words, I found very little to love about this book. It was short and simple, and although it brought up moral and ethical questions, they're all stuff I've seen before. Perhaps the underlying themes -- the dystopian and violent world, the fascist government, the necessity of choice -- seem old because this very book was so popular. Regardless, I feel like the philosophical part of this book is more suited to my junior high or high school self.
Perhaps it's just me, but I really felt the absence of any meaningful female characters in this book. It makes it hard to understand whether the author's statements about human nature are meant to apply to all humankind, or just men or boys. The main character is impossible to care about, and I found myself bored with the plot because he's just so despicable that you can't care what happens to him. Some backstory explaining why he's so wretched, or even some other personality traits besides "violent and angry" would go a long way toward characterization.(less)
An arduous experience, but my expectations were probably too high. Although the dozens of fairly redundant horror episodes are pretty dull, they do th...moreAn arduous experience, but my expectations were probably too high. Although the dozens of fairly redundant horror episodes are pretty dull, they do their job fine. In the context of the genre, they are to be expected--and they do make the book somewhat eerie to read alone in a dark room.
For the most part, though, this book feels...heavy. The plot is complex and torturous and the way it is brought together feels ungainly. It often feels like King has shoved in too many characters, too many incidents, and too many details. I'm not sure why the book is so long; there's nothing interesting enough to justify such a monstrous length. He writes like a man being paid by the word, repeating obvious points many, many times.
A few hundred pages near the end were pretty good--he had finally got three or four characters to seem lifelike--but still could not avoid the urge to insert boring, pace-slowing passages. In sum, at no point was I glad I had started this book and I'm still unsure why I bothered finishing it.(less)
The pacing for me was a bit slow--it was a good long time before either the fair or Holmes began to be really enthralling. The facts and description o...moreThe pacing for me was a bit slow--it was a good long time before either the fair or Holmes began to be really enthralling. The facts and description of the events were fascinating. The writing was decent, if a bit over-dramatic at point, it seemed to contribute to the general old-timey feel.
For the entire first half I found the serial killer plot far, far more interesting than the tedious description of bureaucratic and political machinations. In the second half, however, I was surprised to be more taken with the descriptions of the fair and its wonders. Overall, was worth the read. (less)
The last quarter of this book deserves 4 stars, the first three quarters deserve 2.
Firstly, the dialogue in this book (and sometimes the internal mono...moreThe last quarter of this book deserves 4 stars, the first three quarters deserve 2.
Firstly, the dialogue in this book (and sometimes the internal monologue) is very wry and generally hilarious. Easily its best quality, and kept me reading past the slow parts.
Unfortunately, the dialogue is often eclipsed by TONS of gruesome and gory visual descriptions, and though they are perfectly tolerable at first they do drag on after a while. After the 50th or 60th person whose entrails explode into a rain of black worms which follow after the narrator and then grow into giant black intestine-snakes leaking oily residue, or whatever, it gets old. Consequently, the numerous action sequences (and there are a LOT of action sequences) blend into each other, each seeming unimpressive and dull despite the apocalyptic language used to describe it. Three-quarters of the way in, I was utterly bored by all the action, and felt unconnected to the characters whose motivations and personalities seemed to be ignored in favor of more and more descriptions of walking eyeballs and sawn-off shotguns and babies that are actually made of peanut butter or so on. Maybe the whole horror genre is this repetitive, and I'm just not a fan?
And then something delightful happened! The book changed entirely with the introduction of the first meaningful female character, and the focus shifted from all the horrible things (which kept happening) to some actual emotional connections and backstory for the characters. In a space of a few pages, I found the previously flat narrator sympathetic, and the collection of side-characters interesting as well. Plus, instead of endless descriptions, we actually get more dialogue! Which is witty and fun.
The ending hit the perfect tone for me, and ultimately I finished this book feeling pleased having read it--a considerable feat, if you take into account how I felt plodding through the middle.(less)