Once upon a time, I had all thirteen volumes in this mysterious, clever and annoying series of children’s books. Every time a new one was released, I would add it to my collection, but once I’d read the whole series I never wanted to re-read them. Until recently, when I borrowed them from the library over the course of a few months. Lemony Snicket is the pseudonym of Daniel Handler (although this wasn’t widely publicised at the time the books were first published) and is a character in his own stories. Each book includes a letter to his editor about the next one, usually missing half of the words and implying he’s risking great danger to acquire the research. There are occasional charmingly eccentric illustrations by Brett Helquist.
Published between 1999 – 2006, the books are entitled The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril and The End. They follow the misfortunes of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. After they lose their home and parents in a fire, they are passed around a lot of useless guardians and are the focus of Count Olaf’s evil schemes to get their fortune. The stories are somewhat formulaic until about halfway through, when the plot thickens and things get interesting. I have to admit that the last book confused me and felt somewhat of a let-down after so many volumes. There wasn’t much resolution and some characters I thought would return never do.
The books are very unusual reads, absurd, erudite and dark. They show that the world is a treacherous, bizarre place, but they also advocate resourcefulness, knowledge, politeness and kindness. I’m not sure when or where they are supposed to be set. It’s almost a dystopian parallel universe. The first three books were adapted for a 2004 film and more recently there has been a Netflix series.