Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Book Review: 'A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Bad Beginning' by Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
by Lemony Snicket

Published: 30th September, 1999
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Children's/ Gothic Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 176

Cover Art
I really like the cover of this book, and I think it fits really well with the Gothic feel of the books. I don't think that is a very good depiction of the Count though; in my head he is much filthier and looks much more evil! This guy looks like a nice old grandfather who is worrying about the children! 

Plot Synopsis

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of children's novels (or novellas) by Lemony Snicket (the pen name of American author Daniel Handler) which follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents' death in an arsonous house fire. The children are placed in the custody of their distant cousin Count Olaf, who begins to abuse them and openly plots to embezzle their inheritance.

My Rating:

First Line:
'If you are interested in stories with happy endings you would be better off reading some other book'  
Pocket-Size Review
I really enjoyed this little book and I will be reading the rest of the series.

Highs: I loved all the characters, and I loved how much I hated the Count. 
Lows: The definitions of words placed throughout the text became annoying.
Plot: 8/10 
Characters: 9/10
Pacing: 10/10
Addictive-ness: 8/10

This is a really nasty little book. Unabashedly so. The orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are subjected to unfortunate events at every turn...exactly what the title promises! The children are brilliant characters as each has their own identity and their own quirks; Violet is an inventor, Klaus a reader and Sunny likes to bite people. This is a small thing, but I liked how the boy was the reader and the girl the inventor; normally that would be the other way around because of the usual gender stereotypes. It was nice to see that inverted. I loved the relationship between the orphans as well; they look out for each other and don't fight and bicker their way through the whole book as you sometimes get in children's books. Sunny was probably my favourite orphan as she is only a baby but has such a great spirit and provides most of the comic relief in the book.

Count Olaf is a brilliant villain. He, and his motley crew of sinister misfits, rival Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil for pure unadulterated evil. There is no reason to like the Count at all, so you hate him with a passion. I like characters you can really sink your teeth into and properly hate- it's like being at a pantomime and booing every time the villain takes to the stage. He treats the children with complete cruelty and disregard, and subjects them to filthy conditions, physical abuse and slave duties. Whenever children are involved there is always a question of paedophilic undertones, and certain events and instances in the book do make you squirm in discomfort...such as the Count caressing Violet's face on a few occasions. It only adds to your feeling of desperately wanting to help the orphans and makes you feel even more tense about the potential threat posed by the Count.

What I think I really loved most about this book was how it reminded me of books I used to read when I was younger. I adore Roald Dahl and I always remember my Grandma saying to me, 'You shouldn't read those, they always have a nasty streak'. I couldn't tell her that that's why I loved them. I like books where people die and bad things happen and there is a villain of the piece; my favourite book was always Matilda. I like macabre and dark humour, and Lemony Snicket really knows how to do that really well for children. He doesn't patronise them and assume that they want rose gardens and cuddly bears and happy endings. The children in the book are treated with respect by Snicket in that they face real, adult problems and handle them exquisitely. Adults are useless in this book. Not only the Count and his minions, but even their lawyer Mr Poe who ignores their pleas for help and their neighbour Justice Strauss who is too naive to notice their abuse are ineffectual. Even their dead parents, whose Will prevents them from being adopted by someone who isn't a relative, are hindering them. The children have to use their own resources and creativity despite these stupid grown-ups; in the same way that Harry Potter and characters in most Enid Blyton books do. Adults are so caught up in small domestic problems that they ignore the real issues right in front of them.

There was only one thing which didn't work for me in this book. I generally don't like to criticise children's books too harshly as I feel I am not their target audience, and what doesn't work for me might work for a child. However, I wasn't a fan of the word definitions that were slipped into the story as I felt they interrupted the flow of the narrative, and were sometimes even a little confusing. Saying that, I can imagine they would be handy if you were reading this story aloud to children as it would clarify hard words for them and maybe even expand their vocabulary.

Overall, this book was everything I was expecting and a little bit more. It was well written and memorable, with an outrageously evil villain living in a sprawling run-down Gothic mansion. I know I would have loved these books as a child, and I would definitely recommend these books to any children I meet in the future!

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: The rest of the 'Series of Unfortunate Events' books!
Three Words to Describe this Book: Morbid, Cruel, Entertaining. 


  1. :) This and harry potter taught me so many vocabulary words! I love how exciting and real this story is though sometimes I'm amazed at how perfect Violet, Klaus and Sunny can be.
    count olaf is a devious and great villain.
    Great Review!

  2. I have not read these books in forever, I think I only made it to book 5 or 6 before I stopped. I loved them. Maybe it is time to pick them up to re-read and maybe share with my children. Great Review! Thanks for reminding about such a great series!

  3. I love this review! I've never actually picked this series up, but am becoming increasingly convinced that I ought to. I love the descriptions you have of it being Gothic, and wicked, and outrageous--all things I love! I think you may be right about the definitions thing working better if spoken aloud? I've heard fantastic things about the audio read by Tim Curray.

  4. I haven't read this, but I watched the movie, and you are SO right about Roald Dahl. I never made that connection, but I think that's partly why it felt so familiar. This really does sound like a fun series.

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