Book Review: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1)

I read these books when I was first grade and loved them. Rereading the first book was a very weird experience, good and strange at the same time.

3/5 stars

cover bad beginning

 Goodreads description:

Dear Reader,

I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In 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.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

My review

I enjoyed this book. It’s definitely quirky in a way that probably appealed more to a younger me. It’s clearly the start of a long series in that it feels more like an exposition than a book–which it is, and which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The characters are likable if not terribly complex. The book is told in third person (for the most part), which ends up keeping the reader somewhat distant from the characters. I still felt an emotional connection with the Baudelaire orphans, especially the baby, Sunny, who I just wanted to hug through the entire story.

The voice Lemony Snicket brings to the tale is interesting: the story is technically told as if Snicket is telling the account himself, and it occasionally flashes into first person. The voice is melancholy and sassy at the same time–a combination that is hard to describe but entertaining to read at any age. I love the fact that Snicket uses “big” words and then describes the meaning; I remember that it made the books very approachable as a young reader, and it adds to the strong sense of character the narrator possesses.

The main difference between my memory of these books and my impression reading them as a sixteen year old is how much the plot emotionally affected me. I have a clear memory of trying to get my grandmother to read the books when I was young and having her say that they were too sad. I remember being seriously confused, because the books struck me as funny and eccentric, not sad. This time, I almost couldn’t get through the book. Count Olaf is abusive–and not in a quirky way–and it freaked me out that I found these books fun as an elementary schooler. I think the difference comes from the fact that I now have context to understand the real life implications of the Baudelaires’ plight–and it is fairly horrific.

Still, I don’t think these books are necessarily inappropriate for younger kids. I remember loving reading them, and I can understand how Count Olaf would be an entertaining villain (in a “gross and weird” villain sort of way) for younger readers. Nothing in the plot is scarring or would deserve a “trigger alert.” This series strikes me as good books to keep in mind for young children who want to read books with more complicated diction and plot without serious MG or YA themes. (That was what they were for me, at least.)

I can’t decide if I am going to continue reading the series. I remember the later books were more enjoyable and I want to revist them, but the series has 13 books, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of commitment. I’m in an awful reading slump right now, so I might need more Lemony Snicket before YA sounds good again. We’ll see. 🙂

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