Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning


            The Bad Beginning is the first book of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. It tells the story of the Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, as they are orphaned by a fire. They are forced to be under the care of their distant relative Count Olaf, who has plans of stealing their financial inheritance.

            The first thing that captures my attention is the writing style. It has a distinct tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously, giving the narration an additional comical value. This style has been juxtaposed with the seemingly unfortunate events that happen to the Baudelaire children, and what results is a parodic voice of a tragedy.

            But the writing style is not perfect. It does have the tendency to be monotonous. Lemony Snicket utilizes the same formula for witty narration. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it clearly represents that the author has some serious lack in inspiration. The voice is also not consistent. There are instances where it loses its parodic touch, rendering the words flat.

            The plot is also something that I wouldn’t give much praise. The story does not live up to its claims of tragedies and unhappy endings. The plot points are not that tragic and unhappy in a literary point of view. This gives the impression that the claims are just a hyperbole, or are just loosely said to employ the parodic voice of the series – or both.

Not a spoiler. It's in the synopsis

            As for the characters, I think they have fairly interesting frameworks. Violet’s enthusiasm towards gears and machines, Klaus’s curiosity in books and knowledge, Judge Strauss’s sweetness and naivety – all of these are effective in distinguishing characters.

            But the characterization also has its problems. Even though it has the necessary archetypes, Lemony Snicket has not utilized them to create solid characters. The author fails to give these characters distinct voices. To make things worse, the universal voice is also too formal to distinguish adults from children. That’s a bad sign for a book that has characters of varying ages.

            Overall, I think A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning is a little disappointing. The writing style has so much potential to keep children and adult readers entertained. I would even equate the style with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz – only that it doesn’t live up to its potential. The story is also not intricate enough to span for thirteen books, or at least, I don’t see how this series stretches to so many volumes. I do hope for the plot to thicken more to prove me wrong.

            I would still subscribe to the series, and I hope that the problems with the writing style, story, and characterization will be fixed, so I would be able to see why the series has gained international approval.

            Related posts:
            Book Review: Alice in Wonderland


  1. I remember watching the feature film based on the Lemony Snicket franchise when I was a kid, and I remember not liking it, so I never decided to read the books, which sounds like a good thing. I wonder why this series is so popular.


    1. I'm guessing it's because of the way it is written. The style is humorous, but on a personal note, doesn't really do it that much for me.

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