A Bad Beginning

Reviewed in 2005 by home school student, Stephanie.

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” That is the warning given to the reader in the first few sentences of Book the First by Lemony Snicket. What kind of author would advise someone not to read their books, which are said to be filled with absolutely no happiness but only misery and despair? Lemony Snicket, or as he is so-called, does just this.

The warning might sound scary to some, but not forbidding enough to frighten the reader away, in face it increases the reader’s rebellious curiosity and my guess is the word of warning is hardly ever heeded.

In my opinion, the plot is somewhat ordinary – three siblings whose house, parents, and fortune are all consumed in a fire and taken from them in truly an ‘unfortunate event.’ Little do they know they are about to experience a long string of these ill-fated incidents. Violet, the oldest Baudelaire at fourteen, is a right-handed, mechanical genius. Klaus is twelve and like Violet, is extremely intelligent. He, apparently, has a photographic memory and remembers everything he reads. Sunny is the baby and speaks ‘Gloo Gack’ or baby talk. Sunny loves to bite and chomp on anything she can lay her hands (or I guess her mouth) on.

The children are sent to a mysterious unfamiliar relative Count Olaf. After a few moments living in his horrible mansion, the children realize they are in danger. Count Olaf treats them as slaves and is after their fortune.

Although I didn’t enjoy the plot of the story, the ways of the author are very clever and amusing. Snicket assumes we are unintelligent, brainless children who do not know the meaning of every third word in the book, so he takes the liberty to provide the definition for us. For example, “the word ‘rickety,’ you probably know, here means ‘unsteady’ or ‘likely to collapse,’ the word ‘blanched’ here means ‘boiled,’ the word ‘incentive’ here means ‘offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do.’ ” Some might consider this a great way to learn words they never knew, but I found it bothersome.

Another literary tool of the author is repetition. When Klaus stays up the entire night reading and researching to find some information which might save them from Count Olaf, Lemony Snicket tells us Klaus was so tired he eventually read the same sentence over and over again. He read the same sentence over and over again. He read the same sentence over and over again, and he, okay, okay, we get the point.

A Bad Beginning is a witty work. So, dear readers, if you feel you are brave enough to make your way through these horrific books, then do so, but do not say you were not warned.”

Snicket, Lemony, and Brett Helquist. The Bad Beginning. Thorndike Press, 2000.