Title: The Bad Beginning
Author: Lemony Snicket
eBook: 176 pages
Published: September 30th 1999 by Scholastic, Inc.
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Summary (from Goodreads):
I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
This…was certainly an experience.
I’ve never read a Lemony Snicket book before, and as it stands, I don’t ever feel the need to read another one.
That’s not to say it was bad, per se, not at all. I found that I actually quite liked the main characters after a couple of chapters. Both older siblings (Violet and Klaus) are well-developed, multi-faceted characters and I can’t fault that. Sunny, the youngest, is still a baby so there isn’t really much that can be done with her (and besides, she’s a cute lil human-hating-biting-machine).
The plot is basic, but then again, this is a middle-grade book. That being said, there are plenty of darker themes in this. Parents dying, alcoholism, child marriage??? It’s creepy to say the least, made even worse by the vibe that the narrator (and therefore the author) just doesn’t care.
The antagonist, Count Olaf, is one of the most horrific characters I’ve encountered in middle-grade fiction, in part because of his abuse of the Baudelaire children. The other part is that he is actually intelligent.
Most ‘adult’ antagonists in children’s fiction are portrayed as stupid or merely wanting to oppress the young protagonists, but Count Olaf actually has a goal. He wants the Baudelaire fortune, and I honestly would expect him to get it, were I not aware that kid’s books tend to have children coming out on top.
The fact that it deals with all of these yet still feels the need to explain what words mean every couple of pages is what irritated me the most, I think. If you trust children to be able to cope with themes like death, why patronise them?
However, I am speaking as an 18 year old that studies English. For a child, these definitions may be helpful, and potentially amusing, as opposed to patronising. I guess enjoying this book really is up to the reader’s preferences.
For me personally, The Bad Beginning is certainly an apt name. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts!!