Friday, 4 July 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 5

I didn't think I was going to get all these posted this week which would've been a slight disaster considering how I've spent ages carefully organising exactly what I'm going to post and when for the next couple of months. I'm even starting to plan my posts for December so getting out of kilter here could have a knock-on effect!

But I did it. And I'm determined to be a bit more organised for next week, to save all this rush!

What Happens?

Stephano prevents the children from telling Monty that Count Olaf is now back in the picture. When they finally get the opportunity to tell Monty he doesn't quite get the message that they're trying to convey. He thinks Stephano is a Herpetological Society spy. Luckily he's treating his suspicions seriously and is changing some of his plans for the Peru trip. But Olaf isn't going to let something like a jovial uncle prevent him from getting his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. It seems like his latest plan is going to involve removing Monty from the scene.

Thoughts as I read:

It's funny how chapter length is kind of relative. I've been reading books where having a chapter of thirty or forty pages isn't all that unusual. In fact one of my more recent selections actually had lengthy subchapters within the chapters, there was that much ground being covered. Compared to that the chapters in The Reptile Room aren't particularly long, but considering how the chapters in the last book usually topped out somewhere around twelve pages, the current ones are nearer to twenty so it makes them feel almost neverending by comparison!

I love the picture at the beginning of Chapter Five. At first glance it just looks like someone cutting mushrooms with a really big knife, but when you look at it again you can't help but notice that the chopped mushrooms look decidedly skull-like in their appearance. It's quite nifty.

"That night felt like the longest and most terrible the Baudelaire orphans had ever had, and they'd had plenty." I'm glad we got that clarification at the end of the sentence, I'm fairly certain that there was a night described in the same way in the first book so I'm taking that to mean that it was even worse than any of the nights when they were living with Count Olaf.

Just to illustrate how bad that night was we get some equally bad nights illustrated in the text. There was the one when they all caught flu and had a fever (there is nothing worse than feeling ill at night, you can't get comfortable, you're conscious of disturbing other people in the house, you have things the next day that you need to be rested for, I hate it). There was another night when they were at Mr Poe's house where they just couldn't sleep, presumably because of all the events surrounding their parents' deaths. Plus the many nights when they were living with Count Olaf. I'm not sure exactly how long they were with him for, I'm guessing a good few weeks, though there's no actual timescale given.

Basically Count Olaf/Stephano makes sure the children can't tell Monty what's going on and he does this by watching over them with the big knife all evening. I was going to kind of skim over all of the things he does while he was watching them but one does bear mentioning. During dinner Stephano/Olaf holds the knife under the table "rubbing the blade gently against Violet's knee for the entire meal." I'm probably reading way too much into this but it's setting off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. I'm also wondering how many people read these books and then wrote Olaf/Violet fanfiction because that would just be seriously EW!

The children end up going to be without getting to speak to Monty at all, he's just excited about having someone new to give the grand Reptile Room tour to. Olaf seems to be playing his role too well for Monty to notice anything is off. He actually seems to have done his research because he is described as praising Monty's scientific work over dinner, so he's obviously able to sell the Stephano character to someone who doesn't know Olaf. Perhaps I'm wrong about his acting abilities, or perhaps all the adults in this world are just really oblivious to what's right under their own noses.

The children are now regretting the fact that they have individual bedrooms because once again they have been separated and are unable to comfort each other. The children are obviously feeling depressed again at Olaf's return to their life and just don't have the heart to tackle any of the hobbies that they're normally so happy to do.

You would think they could all just convene in one room but this isn't an option, neither is going to Monty's room because they know Stephano/Olaf would be staying up all night to make sure they can't get access to Monty. Any time their consider leaving their room they can see Olaf peering out the door of his room at them. And he's still got his knife too. There's really no escape. At least we know what was in that suitcase he brought with him, it must've been packed full of Pro Plus pills and Red Bull!

Clearly no one in the house is getting any sleep and the following morning everyone is groggy and tired. There's nothing worse than one of those awful sleepless nights where you just end up feeling thoroughly unrested for the next day. Inevitably what happens is you start to feel your eyes dropping within the last hour or so before the alarm goes off, at which point it's far too late to get any worthwhile sleep.

They're no longer feeling enthusiastic about their new life with Uncle Monty, in fact they're positively dreading the Reptile Room. It's that awful feeling when you think you're over the worst and something comes out of the blue to prove you wrong. The children suspect the Monty and Stephano are already in the Reptile Room and so they'll never get an opportunity to tell Monty what's going on. Sunny gets an undefined phrase "Yinga" which I guess is her way of agreeing with her brother.

They seem very determined to refer to Olaf as Stephano. Violet seems to do it without trouble at first but then corrects herself when she does accidentally call him Olaf. I guess it's because they don't want to be caught in a slip up in front of the man himself because of the potential consequences if they do.

Klaus suggests that perhaps Olaf is just going to wait, hovering around them until Violet is of age and he can steal their fortune. This leads them to remembering what life was like four years before this point; Violet was ten and her hair was shorter, she'd just invented a new sort of pencil sharpener; Klaus had been eight and he had just become interested in astronomy; and Sunny? Well:

"Sunny, of course, had not been born four years ago, and she sat and tried to remember what that was like. Very dark, she thought, with nothing to bite."

I know this is another serious bit of the book, but it is rather funny.

Monty catches them dragging their feet and proceeds to encourage them to move a little faster as Stephano is already hard at work in the Reptile Room, and Monty wants to finish early enough to catch Zombies in the Snow which sounds like a nice, child-friendly sort of film! Violet sees her opportunity and she asks to speak to Monty about the aforementioned Stephano.

To their, and I'm guessing most readers', surprise, Monty has some suspicions about Stephano. He's picked up on the fact that he's a little bit 'spooky' and takes the children outside to discuss it properly, without the man in question overhearing them. They leave their dirty breakfast plates "which is not a good thing to do but perfectly acceptable in the face of an emergency". I love little bits like that. They always make me smile, which sometimes feels wrong because the events taking place are generally not supposed to be funny, but then again the whole thing is often very tongue-in-cheek.

Monty's suspicions are not the same as the Baudelaires' though. While they want him to cotton on to the fact that Stephano is actually Count Olaf in disguise, Monty suspects he's actually a spy from the Herpetological Society who has come to get information about the Incredibly Deadly Viper in order to claim he discovered it. As realisation dawns the children understand that Monty is in fact being somewhat cautious, but he's got completely the wrong end of the stick.

When Klaus bursts out with the information that he's actually Count Olaf, Monty thinks Klaus is just being sort of metaphorical; that the spy is behaving in exactly the same way as Olaf would. Which is kind of funny because he is behaving in the way Olaf would but that's because he is Count Olaf.

Luckily Monty has a plan. He claims he's got a Peru ticket for everyone (except Sunny who they're going to hide in a suitcase to save money, though when she protests with "Deepo!" he says he's kidding), but he then rips up Stephano's ticket to prevent him from coming with them. Instead Monty's going to make him stay behind to look after his specimens.

At this I thought that if he really suspected Stephano of being a spy then surely he wouldn't leave him alone with all his previous specimens. But Monty's way ahead of me; they're going to take the IDV with them. Now I'm wondering what the original plan was for when he was going to Peru, who was going to come in and take care of the creatures in the Reptile Room? Will they still be coming if the so-called Stephano is there looking after them already? Ack! Plot points!

Snicket goes on to show how wrong this conversation has become by likening it to placing an order with a waiter who makes a small mistake which is easy to explain versus placing an order with a waiter who responds by biting your nose. Obviously the latter is so wrong that there is nothing you can say to that situation. This is how the Baudelaire children respond. They are now completely unable to set him right about the situation which is a shame because you'd think that he might actually be persuaded to believe them. Alternatively they could just play along with him, tell him Stephano has threatened them and hightail it to Peru before he can do anything to them.

Although Olaf's plan quickly begins to become obvious as their conversation is wrapping up and something large and heavy lands on top of Monty. Luckily it just lands on his shoulder and he's not seriously injured. Klaus gets the blame for this as the object in question is his large brass reading lamp which Monty assumes was left dangling out the window, that's really more of the sort of thing Olaf is into. Klaus's protestations fall on deaf ears though, when he points out that it wouldn't have jumped out the window by itself.

And just like that the children are being let down by the adults in their lives again. The constant reminders not to interrupt are one thing, but Monty is rather Poe-like in his refusal to listen to them here. He's got his own things to worry about and he's not going to let the children mess around with his plans. Violet picks up on this very quickly, silencing Klaus and agreeing to find somewhere safe for the lamp and the children are left alone.

But only for a moment. Olaf has overheard part of their conversation and he reveals that the lamp wasn't actually intended for the children. Oh no, the new target for his nefarious plans is clearly Monty. The children think that they've got him though, then Klaus points out that Monty tore up Stephano's ticket. I think that this piece of information would've been better kept quiet in order to allow them to sneak away. But Klaus is only twelve so I'll forgive him this little mistake.

Besides, Olaf doesn't care about whether or not he has a ticket. He gestures to the lamp and points out that accidents can always happen and that might lead to their plans being changed. I think they're really in trouble now.

I was honestly expecting the children to wake up and find Monty was dead in the Reptile Room during this chapter. I think that's because of the bit of the film taken from this book is rather more condensed than the books are. I didn't remember the bit with Monty thinking Stephano was a spy, so that was a nice little twist on this read-through.

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