Just finished reading Lemony Snicket’s latest release into the realm of
literature, The Penultimate Peril. If you’ve read the previous eleven books in the Series of Unfortunate Events, be prepared for more of the same; Snicket has built his popularity on the formulas of depression, obscurity, and general vagueness, and this book falls right into that line. As such, if you’re hoping that this book will begin to clear up some of the muddied waters surrounding the Baudelaire orphans, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you like the feeling of, “What in the world is going on here?”, this book will be a great addition to your literary pantheon . . . .
These books are wonderful in that they appear to be moving while actually standing still. In none of these books has any of the characters changed; information is being collected, situations arise, but there is a kind of prolonged stagnation, a repetition of the same things in different locations. This can be frustrating for those who like a point in every book. This does, however, put a great deal of pressure on Snicket to deliver something great with the thirteenth and final book in the series; otherwise, it’s going to be a great joke on all of us who have purchased the first twelve . . . .
Snicket’s wry sense of humour is in full display in this book, and as he has learned what works well and what his audience is looking for, he is giving us more and more. He continues with his slyly political asides; in a conversation about justice being blind, Sunny, the baby, says, “Scalia,” which is pretty funny in its own right. (I almost laughed out loud on that one; not as outwardly funny as Dave Barry or Douglas Adams, perhaps, but very penetrating in its satire.)
This book is dramatically more personal; we are beginning to see the way in which Snicket and the Baudelaire children are linked by the V.F.D. and the reasons why he is the one to tell their story. Again, we are not allowed to see the entire story, merely hints and clues of what might be; hints and clues that are so vague that it leaves almost every possibility still open. He’s given us another set of triplets, a place in which nobody knows whether anyone else is friend or foe, and a gathering of almost all the characters (at least, those who have not been killed off) from the previous eleven books, all looking for a sugar bowl.
Snicket is wonderfully creative when it comes to wordplay, especially acronyms, and this book is no exception. More and more possibilities are added to the initials V. F. D. and J. S., and more and more acronyms keep popping up, such as Jerome Squalor’s book, Odious Lusting After Finance. Snicket certainly pays great attention to detail and is very meticulous in his treatment of each one.
I’m beginning to think that book thirteen will need to be as long as Rowling’s recent Harry Potter efforts in order to bring all the threads into a coherent whole; but that is part of the brilliance of a good writer, who can shake out all the tangled knots at the last possible moment and leaves you gaping at the mastery of plot and events. (P. G. Wodehouse is the undisputed master of this, in my opinion, with Jeeves as the quintessential deus ex machina.) At least, we hope that Snicket is a good enough writer to draw a satisfactory conclusion to this narrative, even if it is as pessimistic and depressing as he claims it will be . . . .