The Baudelaire children are kind, clever, creative, and intelligent – but that doesn’t mean that bad things will not happen to them. And although they have many amazing qualities, the one that seems to affect their lives the most is their ability to attract terrible and unfortunate events.
**This review was written before the #metoo movement, and before I had heard of the sexual harassment accusations against Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket). You can read about it further in this Vulture article.**
I have never read this series before. Which is quite a feat, considering I was both the target demographic and an avid reader when these were being published. I decided to use the Netflix series as an incentive to read the books, so I’m reading the novels and then watching the corresponding episodes immediately after.
I fell in love with the way that this story was written. Even though this series is definitely written for children, it doesn’t condescend to them. As someone who has read an awful lot of children’s books (both as a child and as an adult), that’s not a very common thing to find. What do I mean by that? Rather than avoid using “big” or “advanced” vocabulary, Lemony Snicket includes them, and simply interjects an explanation for the word. He doesn’t dumb himself down, he just takes learning opportunities where he sees them.
Not only does he not dumb himself down, he also doesn’t shy away from the macabre or the harshness of life. Rather than painting a glossy, cheery, yellow finish over everything, Lemony Snicket acknowledges hardship and grief. He knows that children go through hard things and that they experience struggles in the same way adults do. It can be worse for children because it is often the first time that they are experiencing that pain, and it is often the worst thing that they have ever experienced. And Lemony Snicket honours that. He’s like that cool uncle or older cousin who let you know what was happening at family gatherings after the parents sent all the kids out of the room.
On top of all this, we have a truly evil villain in Count Olaf. There’s some comedy to him, to be sure, but he’s really an awful person to his very core. Which just makes for an excellent story.
This is not a happy story. If you are looking for a happy story, the title of the book, and the title of the series, and the blurb on the back of the book are all really quite accurate. The Bad Beginning was a refreshing change of pace, delightfully odd, and I am looking forward to starting The Reptile Room.