Thursday, August 30, 2012

Necessary Darkness: Review of Lemony Snicket

The little Goofs and I are driving around listening to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.  We are on book six, out of 13.  They are quick listens and reads and each one follows a fairly similar trajectory.  The main characters are the Baudelaire orphans, three charming and bright children whose parents were killed in a fire.  When the eldest turns 18 they will inherit the vast Baudelaire fortune.  In each story they are placed with a guardian and pursued by their evil cousin Count Olaf who adopts ingenious disguises in order to carry out a dastardly plan to steal their fortune.

So the plots are repetitive and the series does not have the vast import of say Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  But the fun is really in the journey.  The series is written with witty, wonderful language full of funny juxtapositions and wry observations.  It is sophisticated enough for adults to enjoy and children can really sink their teeth into the rich witty language.  Even the names are wonderful, in one book the children live on Lake Lachrymose.  In another they attend Prufrock Preparatory School where they are placed under the care of Vice Principal Nero.  We are currently listening to Book Six, The Ersatz Elevator.

The stories can be a bit difficult to take because they are unrelentingly dark and whenever something not terrible happens, the reader knows something awful is just around the corner.  It is a world in which adults come in various combinations of creepy and evil, well meaning and ineffectual, or just plain distracted.  The books also present a number of adult phenomena but from the point of view of some rather serious children.  Hopefully few children live in a situation resembling those depicted in Lemony Snicket, but most children will relate to a world of useless and hostile grown-ups.

Finally, my favorite character is the youngest of the three orphans, Sunny.  She is a little girl who cannot quite walk and speaks in baby talk words that her siblings understand as clear and sophisticated concepts.  She also has four very sharp strong teeth.  Biting things is her hobby and she uses her teeth strategically in a number of difficult situations.  She is delightful.

(Sunny is the one biting the snake - because that's how she rolls.)

I listen to lots of books, but rarely have much to say about the audio production, but in this case the audio production is noticeable – for the better and worse.  Tim Curry, who is quite good, reads much of the series.  However, one of the characters, the children’s guardian Mr. Poe, is described as coughing a great deal.  Curry takes this to an extreme, which can be difficult to hear.  The little Goofs and I moan whenever a coughing fit comes along.  The author, Daniel Handler, reads some of the books.  His reading is ok – but his voice is often too soft and I have trouble hearing.  Finally, there are production problems with some of the books and parts are inaudible.  This may be my equipment or the specific reproduction from my library.  But the fact is out of dozens of audiobooks I’ve listened to in various formats these are the only ones I’ve had these kinds of problems with.

On the plus side, Sunny’s loud baby talk exclamations are much funnier heard then read – endearing her to me all the more.  So please, don't let this minor complaint stop anyone from listening or just read them.

No comments: