Friday, 6 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Bad Beginning, Chapter 4

We’re now almost a quarter of the way into the first book of Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning. There may be spoilers within.

What Happens?
The children go shopping for the ingredients for the puttanesca recipe. Justice Strauss goes with them and lets them know they’re welcome in her house any time. The children then get on with cooking the pasta. Unfortunately what Count Olaf didn’t let them know when he told them to make dinner was that he was expecting roast beef. The evening goes from bad to worse as Olaf and his troupe get drunk, culminating in Olaf hitting Klaus and hinting that he might have a plan to get his hands on the children’s money.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter begins with an image of a fish, presumably one of the ones on the stall where the children go shopping. I like the crosshatching on Helquist’s illustrations, when I first started school in Scotland that was exactly the technique we were using in art at the time. I drew a shoe and then spent hours shading it all in. It was displayed at a school art show. :-)

The children go shopping with Justice Strauss to get the ingredients. Not surprisingly, Count Olaf hasn’t left them very much money. The children have the sense to check the correct quantities needed for their meal, and take themselves into account, so at least they’re going to be properly fed tonight. I doubt whether Olaf feeds them well at the best of times.

The book basically gives you all the ingredients that you need to make puttanesca pasta. It gives a little bit of information about each ingredient, my favourite being ‘… tomatoes, which are actually fruits and not vegetables as most people believe.’ That last ingredient also rules me out from enjoying this meal.

The children also get pudding in the hopes it’ll make Count Olaf be nicer to them. I suspect it’ll take more than some Angel Delight to improve the way he treats them.

Justice Strauss wonders why Count Olaf is entrusting the children with such responsibility. You’d think she would be well positioned to raise her concerns. And then my brain starts whirring and I consider the possibility that this book is a commentary on how looked after children can slip through the cracks… I’ll stop now.

The children have only been without their parents and in the ‘care’ of Count Olaf for a short period of time but the emotional scarring is already there. Justice Strauss is being nice to them and they’re not sure what is expected of them in return. The children offer to do chores for her, but she’s a good person and tells them she doesn’t want anything from them and they can visit any time they like. She’s in the perfect position to get them out of Count Olaf’s clutches, she just needs to be made to see it.

We get another little repetition of the tasks assumed by each other children in the kitchen. While Violet and Klaus take care of the actual cooking, ‘Sunny banged on a pot with a wooden spoon, singing a rather repetitive song she had written herself.’ Love it.

The children actually feel a little happier as they cook the food, reminiscing about their parents. Of course, because of the nature of the book, they can’t enjoy anything for too long. Count Olaf returns and he wants his roast beef dinner. Did he not mention that was what he wanted them to cook?

Count Olaf is kind of a caricature character, you can’t imagine anyone being as mad and crazy as his is, though I’m sure there are some people very much like him out there. Just because he didn’t tell them what he wanted to serve the guests doesn’t mean they couldn’t figure it out. At least that’s the way he sees it. He’s not impressed with the puttanesca pasta sauce the children have made and when Sunny gets upset he picks her up and threatens to drop her. Definitely not a contender for carer of the year.

I love the description of the members of Count Olaf’s acting troupe. As with Count Olaf they’re all really over blown and exaggerated. A bald man with a long nose, two women with white faces, a man with two hooks instead of hands, and a very fat person of indeterminate gender. They’re all distinctive and you can bet that we’re going to meet them again in the future.

The acting troupe all offer their parenting advice as they find Olaf ostensibly ‘disciplining’ the orphans. The hook-handed man warns him not to go too easy on them in order to get them to obey him. Nice.

Olaf begrudgingly agrees to eat the food the children have prepared. Meanwhile the bald man makes a comment to Violet that is either a threat or sexual harassment. I’m not sure that I’d noticed it before, but the line ‘‘You’re a pretty one,’ he said, taking her face in his rough hands.’ makes me shudder as well. I’m guessing it’s intentional because Violet reacts with ‘fear and revulsion’.

The atmosphere in the kitchen has completely changed from earlier, though I have to admit, I didn’t really get much of a sense of the way the atmosphere had improved when they were cooking because everything about Olaf’s house screams ‘horrible’. But just in case you’ve not noticed that things are really unpleasant the puttanesca sauce is now described as looking like ‘a vat of blood’.

Violet and Klaus take the food through to the dining room to serve and we’re reminded again that Violet is right-handed, just in case we’ve forgotten that this is an important plot point. She’s also feeling a little unhinged by recent events and is wishing she’d bought poison to put in the puttanesca sauce. I’m actually thinking that Olaf is the sort of person who probably has a nice stash of poison in the house, he seems like that kind of a person, I bet all the neighbourhood cats went missing when he moved in.

Olaf and his companions steadily get more drunk, whereas the children have lost all appetite for their own food. The children are excused from watching the group’s performance as Olaf notices that they’ve not done the washing up yet, but afterwards they’re to go straight to their ‘beds’. Klaus points out that there’s just one bed between the three of them. Now I’m wondering why Violet and Klaus don’t top and tail to share the bed. I realise that no kid really wants to share a bed with their sibling, but it’d be a bit more comfy than sleeping on the floor.

Anyway, this was a dangerous thing for Klaus to say. Olaf reacts quite calmly, telling Klaus that he can go buy another bed with his enormous fortune. Personally I’d take Olaf up on his challenge to go to town, expect I’d try and find some sort of responsible adult who might take me seriously when I told them how awful Olaf was.

When Klaus points out that they don’t get access to the money until Violet comes of age Olaf gets so angry that he hits Klaus. Now he’s adding physical abuse to all the emotional abuse and neglect that he’s already got on his record. Seriously, what is Mr Poe thinking?!

We’re treated to another view of the eye tattooed on Olaf’s ankle while Klaus is sprawled on the floor. That’s the one eye sighting in this chapter and the eighth in the book so far. Rather than being shocked or disgusted, Olaf’s troupe claps, just in case we thought they were maybe a little bit nice, nope, they’re all bad. Although if you needed any more evidence that they weren’t the nicest of people, the hook-handed guy assures Olaf that he’s sure the Count will get his hands on their money eventually. Olaf already seems to be plotting something, as if the kids didn’t have enough to be worrying about.

The chapter ends with the three children in their room; Klaus in bed, Violet on the floor and Sunny on her curtain cushion, all silently crying. A definite contrast between the slightly uplifting and happy conclusion to the last chapter. And you just know that it’s going to go on getting worse for some time to come.

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