Monday, 30 June 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 1

And we’re onto the first chapter of the second book in the Series of Unfortunate Events, this one is The Reptile Room. I thought I remembered a lot about this series, but the more I read, the more it seems I’ve forgotten.

I’ll be posting the reviews for the first five chapters this week, another five next week and all being well we’ll be moving onto the next book in just over a fortnight. I much prefer posting this way to posting once a week because it means getting through the story so much quicker. I’m also planning to watch the film when I finish the next book as well as then going on to do Chapter-by-Chapter reviews for the Twilight books because I think that will be interesting.

What Happens?

Mr Poe drives the three Baudelaire children to their new guardian, Dr. Montgomery. He informs them that he is a scientist named Montgomery Montgomery and when they arrive at the house they can’t help but notice all the topiary snake hedges around the garden. And then they meet their new guardian.

Thoughts as I read:

As I mentioned before, I love the dedications at the beginning of these books. I recently saw a website which had a list of the top 20-something book dedications (one of which was the dedication at the beginning of my friend Jen’s new book, The Bookshop Book) and each dedication from the Series of Unfortunate Events books was included. Anyway, this one says:

For Beatrice -
My love for you shall live forever.
You, however, did not.

I love how they’re always totally different from what you would usually expect to find at the beginning of a book for children.

Before we actually get to the text we’ve got the first picture of the book. And it’s a lovely one. No kidding, some of these pictures I would love to have blown up and in colour to put up on the wall.

Just in case we weren’t sure if the snake a was a clue at the end of the last book, this picture helps to hammer it home. If Count Olaf had a penchant for eyes in his home decor, then the new Baudelaire guardian is going for a more reptilian theme. There are no less than six snakes in this picture which shows the outside of a large house with snake-shaped bushes. We can see five of these wiggly, twisted bushes and then there’s an extra snake in place of a weathercock. I actually took a strong painkiller about five minutes before sitting down to read and so it took me three attempts to count all the snakes. All six of them. I kept getting to three and getting confused about which ones I’d counted already.

I’ll move on now and try to keep this chapter review coherent! It’s only ten pages long so that shouldn’t be too hard, right?

The book opens the way that the series clearly means to go on:

The stretch of road that leads out of the city, past Hazy Harbor and into the town of Tedia, is perhaps the most unpleasant in the world. It is called Lousy Lane. Lousy Lane runs through fields that are a sickly gray color, in which a handful of scraggly trees produce apples so sour that one only has to look at them to feel ill. Lousy Lane traverses the Grim River, a body of water that is nine-tenths mud and that contains extremely unnerving fish, and it encircles a horseradish factory, so the entire area smells bitter and strong.

There is just so much that I could say about this opening paragraph. There’s three things alone I could waffle about in the first sentence! I won’t. But I will say that I love Tedia as a place name. It sounds like it could actually be a real place, but it also conjures up that sense of boring sameness of ‘tedium’. I love it.

Anway, we rejoin the Baudelaires as they travel alone this very road and it evidently reflects their current mood. Most of page two is given over to recapping the events of the first book. As we’ve just read that (and the painkillers have made my hands feel funny so typing is more of a challenge than usual) I’ll move straight on to page three where the Baudelaires are still having nightmares about Count Olaf. They’re clearly traumatised, not only from losing their parents in such tragic circumstances, but also from their recent time living with the alcoholic, abusive Olaf.

… I must tell you that if you have opened this book in the hope of finding out that the children lived happily ever after, you might as well shut it and read something else.”

Nope, thanks for the offer, but I’m in this for the long haul. Basically everything is going badly for the children and things aren’t going to get better in the future.

Mr Poe is the one who is driving them to their new guardian. Thus far he’s been pretty unhelpful but he’s now selected a new distant relative for them to live with (both distant in terms of where they live as well as genetically). Apparently Poe’s car isn’t very big so he’s not got enough room for their suitcases. This means that they don’t have any of their luggage with them at the moment because he’ll have to come back later with that. I don’t think that’s going to help them particularly because it means they’re going to have to get by with very little and won’t have anything familiar to them in their new home.

I don’t remember if we were told exactly how old the children were in the first book, but we’re told Violet is fourteen. We’re also reminded that she often ties up her hair in order to think about inventions.

Again we’re getting into the repetition that is so familiar in these books. Mr Poe, to his credit, is actually making an effort to talk to the children. Perhaps he’s feeling guilty about what happened with Count Olaf. Klaus takes his turn at responding. We’re told he’s twelve and his mind is currently on books: “Sometimes he read well into the night, and in the morning could be found fast asleep, with a book in his hand and his glasses still on.

Then it’s Sunny’s turn to reply to Mr Poe. Her response is in typical Sunny-speak: “Bax!” I think this might be an attempt at ‘books’ because Mr Poe was talking about Dr. Montgomery telling them stories. We’re reminded that Sunny has four sharp teeth and told that what she was actually saying meant “I’m nervous about meeting a new relative.” That’s fairly understandable seeing as the last one suspended her from the top of a tall tower in a birdcage.

Klaus wisely wants to know how he is related to Dr. Montgomery, presumably to check he’s not Olaf’s brother or something. Dr. M is their “late father’s cousin’s wife’s brother” so I’m guessing related by marriage, not blood, and a rather tenuous relation at that. He’s a scientist, hence the doctor. His name is also Montgomery Montgomery. I always feel sorry for people who have really similar first and last names, it’s like their parents were lacking in imagination or something. Mr Poe warns the children against ridiculing the guy about his dodgy name, which is obviously something that the Baudelaires are civilised enough not to do. But not me apparently.

I love the things that Violet thinks about inventing. This time it’s something to help block out the smell of horseradish. They’re  the sorts of things that children come up with but adults don’t; when I was younger I invented a sort of shoe for gritting pavements, so when people walked around they would be helping to make the ground less icy for the people after them. Violet is keen to know what sort of scientist Montgomery Montgomery is in the hope that he has a laboratory that she can work in.

The house they pull up to is very big and the garden is in good shape. This is already a turn up for the books compared to the last house Mr Poe delivered them to. The greenery in the garden is shaped like snakes, but despite them looking kind of scary we only hope that Mr Poe has actually visited the house before now and subjected Dr. Montgomery to some sort of vetting procedure.

Mr Poe is more concerned about how the children look and behave, wanting Violet to put her hair back up in the ribbon and asking them to make sure Sunny doesn’t bite. When they ring the doorbell there’s an ominous pause after it rings loudly, they have to wait as footsteps approach, the door slowly opens, there’s a carpet, a stained-glass light fitting on the ceiling, a painting of snakes and then Dr. Montgomery steps forward.

And he’s totally different from the way I’ve pictured him. I have Billy Connolly in my mind before of the film, but apparently he’s short, chubby and has a red face. They’re told they can call him Uncle Monty. And he’s just finished making coconut cream cake. Yum! Why am I on a diet?!

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