John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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The Reptile Room

Laurie and I have just finished reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Second: The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket. Or, I should say, we have just finished having Tim Curry read it to us, via audiocassette. Laurie has, of course, read the whole series already, but this was my first time on this particular book, and my second foray into Mr. Snicket's works.

You may be wondering, at this juncture, what I thought of the book, or at least you may be mildly curious about it, given that you are still reading this entry (assuming you are ... although I cannot for the life of me imagine why you might be). Well, I'll tell you.

I am ambivalent about it. Ambivalent, here, is a word meaning that my feelings aren't clearly one thing or another, but rather a mixture of two or more different things. On the one hand, Mr. Snicket has a real talent for interesting ideas and charming wordplay. When he said, to pull a random line out of the book, that one should never under any circumstances let the Virginia Wolf Snake anywhere near a typewriter, I laughed out loud.

On the other hand, the author's conceit -- and by conceit here I mean "the premise the author uses to set the stories in motion" rather than "the author's inflated ego" (although with some authors it can be very difficult to tell one from the other) -- that nothing but bad ever ever ever happens to the Beaudelaire orphans, can get monotonous, even tiresome.

As this is the core premise of the series (it is, after all, "A Series of Unfortunate Events"), there is a great risk that midway through this, the second book, the reader will be sorely tempted to sigh and put it back on the shelf, as indeed I was tempted to do. That Count Olaf would appear in the story was a sine qua non (a Latin phrase which is basically a pompous way of saying "it had to happen"); that the orphans' beloved new guardian would not last as such was a given almost from the moment they met him.

These things I accepted with relative ease. But when Count Olaf threatens the children and their response is to stand around with worried looks on their faces, and knuckle under every time Uncle Monty pooh-poohs their attempts to bring their dire peril to his attention, my ability to be sympathetic to their plight wanes rapidly.

When a rabid dog enters your house, you don't simply stay out of its way as long as possible, because sooner or later it will bite someone. Similarly, when Count Olaf enters your house, you don't do a thing he says, no matter how many times he brandishes his knife, because sooner or later someone or possibly everyone will be murdered -- so your choices are "go down fighting and possibly defeat him first" or just "go down."

This particularly bothered me in that it supposedly came right on the heels of (a phrase here which means, "immediately after") the end of the first book, where Sunny was dangled out a window in a birdcage. Having just escaped from Count Olaf's clutches, the idea that the orphans would simply submit to being in them again with only a bit of protest that was quickly shut off with a stern word struck me as either a plot contrivance, or that the Beaudelaires were wimps who had little room to complain.

However, I am glad I stuck it out, because the fact of the matter is that starting somewhere about 2/3's of the way through the book, the Beaudelaires began to fight back, and at that point, not only did the pace of the book pick up again, but so did my interest. As I told Laurie, "I don't care so much if they succeed or they fail -- the important part is that they have to be trying." And once they became active participants of the book, rather than simply victims of the author's cruel imagination, almost all of my objections washed away. By the end of the book, I liked it again.

I think that this is the last one I'll be "reading" via audiobook. As much as I like Tim Curry, as good a job as he does on all the voices, and as handy as it is to be able to "read" on the way to work (I can't actually read in a moving vehicle, as I get motion sickness, but I can listen), he reads the book at a pace appropriate for children. As they are theoretically the target audience, this is perfectly appropriate, but it does make what are actually very short books take a very long time to slog through.

If you are still reading this, I am impressed and a bit frightened of your patience with my rather lame attempt to do this review as a Lemony Snicket pastiche (a term which means, 'to write in the style of another writer'), and I do apologize for it. Have a good evening.

-The Gneech

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