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by Lemony Snicket - Illustrations by Brett Helquist

Sam North reviews the tragic tale of the Baudelaires

Chapter One

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.

The trouble with reading something you like, you immediately want more. This is no new problem. More than one hundred years ago people yearned to find out what happened to Sam Weller or Oliver Twist and had to be content with weekly or monthly episodes. It was the same for Sherlock Holmes. These writers were onto a good thing and kept on spinning the yarns out to get more money in. Who could blame them. Charles Dickens lived in Bleak House and the heating bill must have been awfully high. And so it is today. Only more so. We readers are searching ever harder for real fiction, genuinely unreal fantastic people with no redeeming characteristics.

Discerning readers have been raiding the kids sections of bookshops and co-opting Harry Potter for themselves, greedily devouring book four even before they let the kids have it (you'll be too slow, I'll just check it for spelling errors then give it back to you). When that wasn't enough, discovering 'His Dark Materials', the Philip Pullman series starring Lyra Silvertongue. (Now handily released as a three book volume).
If you haven't read them, start now, it will change your life.

Sadly there appears not to be another Lyra in the pipeline, so desperate for a good adventure I was pointed in the direction of Lemony Snicket, whose first volume in a fifteen book series is called 'A BAD BEGINNING', and it truly is.

This is wonderful stuff. Three bright rich kids are immediately orphaned and sent to live first with Mr. Poe, the banker with greedy smelly quarrelsome kids of his own and then finally given over to mean and seedy Count Olaf. They are forced to live in his decrepit home because he is at the very least a third cousin removed. There is only one bed and precious little food. There is also a tower which is off limits.

This is not a cute book. Violet, the eldest wants to be an inventor, Klaus her brother reads a lot and Sunny is just a baby that can't talk but can bite pretty viciously . They expect life to treat them a bit better than it does, but they are nothing but stoic in their resolve to survive whatever life throws at them and it throws a lot.

Almost as soon as they have moved in Count Olaf revelas he is an actor and a slob. He clearly hates them and only wants their money. He goes out and orders them to cook for his theatrical troupe of ten people. Cook! These are kids who can only burn toast and even that was difficult. 'Perhaps we could find a cookbook, and read about how to cook,"Klaus said. "It shouldn't be that difficult to make a simple meal."

Aside from Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to get their money, there are lots of other horrid characters who aren't nice at all.
Witness ... the bald man who stopped and stared Violet in the eye.
"You're a pretty one," he said, taking her face in his rough hands. "If I were you I would try not to anger Count Olaf, or he might wreck that pretty little face of yours." Violet shuddered, and the bald man gave a high-pitched giggle and left the room.

There is a warning with every book.
Dear Reader,
I'm, sorry to say that the book your holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells the tale of three very unlucky this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune and cold porridge for breakfast, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy....

With a warning like that who could resist buying it and it is a wonderful start to a very bad adventure filled with constant misery. Lemony Snicket apparently lived in San Francisco and the artist Brett Helquist lives in New York. No word on book burnings yet, but it can't be long now before the Southern Moral Majority get wind of these slim volumes and burn them alongside 'Northern Lights' and 'Harry Potter'. Buy them now before they are banned.

All I can say is Lyra Silvertongue would have loved this first volume. She knows evil when she sees it. So will you. Now when is the movie coming out?

Lemony Snicket in person

© Sam North 2001

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