Elliot's Reviews > The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket
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's review
Dec 27, 11

bookshelves: childrens-literature
Read from December 24 to 25, 2011

Whenever I was bored in high school, I would try to transform my teachers' lectures into as many spoonerisms and anagrams as possible. This sort of word play -- a favorite of mine (and the cause of my friends' occasional frustration when I admit that I was too busy flipping letters in their words to hear some piece of compelling gossip...) -- I learned from The Hostile Hospital, as well as the series as a whole, when I was younger.

The Hostile Hospital, which picks up almost directly where The Vile Village left off (a trend in the more seamlessly connected final books), is one of my favorite books in the series. It frustrates the reader, introducing even more mystery to the Baudelaires' (and our!) quest to discover the meaning of V.F.D. and the secrets of the Baudelaire, Quagmire, and Snicket families. With the appearance of the Snicket File (or what was left of it in the library of records), an additional V.F.D. red herring, and a further clarification/obfuscation of the significance of the sugar bowl, The Hostile Hospital contributes a lot of the raw data from which Snicket devotees like myself have constructed our incomplete drawings of his world.

The Hostile Hospital has everything that makes the previous ASOUE books so wonderful -- black humor, puns galore, fun references to classic literature, and gentle introductions to "grown up" fictive techniques (e.g. dramatic irony, self-awareness, unreliable narration). But this book, as well as the ones that follow, is so much darker than everything that preceded it. I still remember the chills that scurried across my skin when I first saw the Baudelaires trapped in the supply closet of the burning hospital. They realize that, in order to protect themselves and find out the truth of their parents' death, they have unintentionally brought others into often fatal misfortune. Could they be, Violet wonders, villains themselves? Klaus insists that what they have done is different, but How? Violet replies. I've grown old enough to view a great portion of ASOUE as tacky (though still infinitely enjoyable), and yet this scene still haunts me. Shortly afterward, as the Baudelaires realize that their only escape is to hide in Count Olaf's car -- joining his troupe on their terrible journal -- they see yet more evidence that causes them to doubt their own inner goodness.

I've repeatedly praised Handler's books for being so drastically different from other children's novels. No other author could (or would) give his courageous, noble, inquisitive, and lovable characters not one but 13 unhappy endings. No other author could (or would) make such remarkable children be filled with such vivid, painful self-doubt. I know I will want to withhold A Series of Unfortunate Events from my children until they are mature enough to see their conception of an ideal story shattered -- but I know that they will have to read these books.
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