Tuesday, October 17, 2006
When one invests almost 68 hours reading 13 volumes that add up to 3,387 pages, it would seem reasonable to expect that one would reach the end of the story - particularly when the last volume is, in fact, called "The End." (For those of you wondering, the calculation was based on the estimation of reading 50 pages per hour.)
Alas, the last book of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is not really a gift from Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) to his legions of loyal readers. It is more an expression of an author who, having created nefarious, narcissistic and nebulous characters and having taken them on flammable, frightening and fretful adventures, couldn't figure out how to deduce a denouement that would quiet the queries he posed and solve the scenarios he created.
Instead, Snicket has written a book that answers precious few of the questions readers have and tries to excuse his laziness and lack of creativity by saying one never fully understands anyone's life story - not even one's own.
That may be true, but it's a lesson that readers young and old alike stumble upon during their lifetimes. It is not what most were probably expecting from the hugely popular - and until now satisfying - series.
To be sure, there are sparkles of the Snicket that prompted the sales of millions of copies of his books. There is a particularly clever passage in which, in a listing of items found on an island, two items from each letter of the alphabet are used. There are lots of nods to peculiar plots and characters from previous books. And there are discussions about such topics as "peer pressure" and having a "moral compass" that could prompt interesting dinner table conversations.
But so much of the final book is taken up with the Baudelaire orphans' latest misadventure that wrapping up the story seems like something Snicket almost forgot to do. (Perhaps that's why this book, unlike the rest, has 14 chapters.)
We won't ruin what little surprise can be found in it, but we will say that if you were to find this book washed up on an island and you decided not to read it, as one character says repeatedly (and annoyingly) throughout: "I'm not going to force you."