A Series of Unfortunate Events. Even the title is enough to spark interest for its sheer cleverness. First, because of the play on the word “series,” and second, because “unfortunate events” is simultaneously charming and intriguing – a word which here means “makes you long to pick it up and peruse its pages.”
And Lemony Snicket’s thirteen-volume series does not disappoint. Except in one important respect.
Mr. Snicket, as stated, does not lack charm. His whimsical wit is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams, but with melancholy overtones. A chapter titled “Déjà vu” opens with a description of the stated phenomenon. We read to the end of the page, turn that page – and find ourselves reading the same page again. And this is only one in a long list of amusing devices.
Mr. Snicket uses reverse psychology to make his writing irresistible. He opens Chapter One of Book the First with:
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.”
Mr. Snicket does not forget that his narrator is also a character. From starting each volume with a mysterious dedication to “Beatrice,” to slipping in snippets of his own sad story at intervals, to confiding in his audience that he often visits bookstores so he can find copies of his books and put them on the highest shelves where they won’t be found, Mr. Snicket carefully paints a picture of his baffling, utterly depressed self.
Mr. Snicket keeps us interested by feeding us tidbits of information that we know are important. We begin to desperately wonder what happened to Beatrice, whether or not the Baudelaire parents are actually dead, and what in the world is in the sugar bowl. We devour each chapter, bookmarking every few pages – everywhere we see a clue. As we near The End, the mysteries are piling up, we are holding our breaths, we—
And this is where Mr. Snicket fails us.
Granted, he warned us there would be no happy ending. Granted, he did everything he could to persuade us not to read on. But we still expected different. We expected the ending to be happy after all because no matter how vehemently the author denied it in every printed line, we could read the truth printed on the white spaces in between. Or so we thought. But even if we took his words at face value, we at least expected answers. Every problem promises a solution, remember? Every mystery promises an explanation.
But all we are left with at the end are broken promises and a sugar bowl that will remain eternally shut.
And hours of amusement. Yes, even though I am grievously disappointed in the ending, I would still highly recommend the series. Such is the dark art of Lemony Snicket.