The Bad Beginning (#1) by Lemony Snicket

Published: September 30th 1999
Goodreads badgePublisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 176
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

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

In light of Lemony Snicket’s birthday on the 28th I thought I would use the days leading up to review his well known series ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. There are 13 in total but they are not overly time consuming to read. It is hard to say whether these books are better than the movie. The movie condensed the first three or four books into one movie so there wasn’t absolute justice done (is there ever), but also these books had their own issues that probably made it easy to watch the film. It probably depends, like most things, left up to the individual. I think Billy Connolly made the movie for me because Jim Carey certainly didn’t.

I liked this book. I enjoy reading books not necessarily for children, but that have children exposed to the dark side of the world. Dahl is also wonderful at this, children in unchildlike situations. I think we are underestimating children by sugar coating stories for them. I have to say Snicket does it slightly differently and not as well as Dahl, but there are the same intentions.

The way Snicket has written this first tale of unfortunate events speaks to the reader personally but also as if it were to a large audience which is very much like a storytelling manner. He also makes personal comments and explains the phrases and words he uses in context of his story. This makes you know he is aiming this at children, but he is not going to dumb it down for them either. It is very clever and he doesn’t treat the readers as ignorant or unworthy of scary tales that are, as it were, unfortunate.

The Bad Beginning is a good introduction to the situation and the characters. When an unfortunate event happens, the Baudelaire children are sent off to live with a mysterious relative and thus the adventure begins. We learn about the three children early on and we know what they like, what they are good at and little details about them that adds that little bit extra. Violet likes to invent, Klaus likes to research, and baby Sunny likes to bite things. There is a focus on these details that help throughout the story in working out what is going on which is clever if one pays attention.

It is a very interesting and well thought out idea that Snicket has created. It is very organised and calm and everyone is very straightforward through this book which was different. It by no means took away from the story or the suspense, but there is something odd and appealing about the calm nature these children handle things as each unfortunate event happens to them. They are mistreated and practically abused but Snicket brushes it off and the children are fed up but they are very accepting as well. This approach was new to me so it took a little getting used to but Snicket made no secrets about the nature of this book so it very much is a matter of it is what it is. This story, and the children within it, are resilient to the end with a hint of cunning, cleverness and surprise, always a good trait for children and books. Definitely makes you want to continue onto book two.

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