Monday, 14 July 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 11

I really failed at reading this recently and I feel like I’ve been playing catch up. I’ll admit, I’ve been giving priority to knitting moustaches; normally I’ll sit in bed reading and making notes while we watch our night time viewing but recently I’ve been obsessively knitting facial features so that means less reading time.

I’m still on track though. I’m just typing my thoughts directly into my blog rather than into my Kindle and then more heavily edited so I apologise in advance for any mistakes.

What Happens?

Violet is upstairs thinking of an invention to get into Stephano’s suitcase. She uses the plug from a lamp and some tacks to make a lockpick. While she is trying to break into the case, Stephano sees her through the window. She has to rush into the house to get some soap to help open the lock and when she finally does break into the case she has to try and work out exactly what it is that Olaf used to kill Monty.

Thoughts as I read:

Chapter Eleven kicks off with a picture of a lamp, decorated with snakes, of course, with the plug surrounded by tacks. The lamp has either an actual snake or the post is sort of made to look like one. Either way, it’s obvious that we’re still in Uncle Monty’s house. I’m guessing that something is going to happen involving a lamp and some thumb tacks.

Violet is in her room inventing. How do we know she’s inventing? Why she’s got her hair tied up of course! She’s remembered that Olaf/Stephano kept mentioning his suitcase so there’s obviously something of importance in it. The question is how to get into the suitcase, which is locked ‘with a lock as shiny as Stephano’s scheming eyes.’

All the things that Violet needs to invent are down in the Reptile Room, with all the people that the Baudelaires want to get away from. While she’s looking around the room trying to figure out where to start, she spots the floorlamp and a lightbulb goes off. Metaphorically of course.

What follows is a reminder of the fact that we shouldn’t play with electric devices. In order to hammer this home we have a page of the word ‘ever’ repeated over and over and over and over and (you get the picture) again. That’s going to make this chapter shorter than I thought it was. This is underscored by the word Never.

We’re reminded that fiddling with electric devices can be really dangerous, but Violet is in a desperate situation and so she has little choice but to go for it. She does some of her inventy jiggery-pokery to the prongs of the electric plug. I found myself wondering for a moment about why there were only two prongs, until I remembered that this is obviously an American book and they don’t have three prong plugs. Anyway, Violet uses the tacks holding up her sheets of paper and the prongs to make a crude lockpick.

Violet then sneaks back downstairs, hoping that no one spots her as she passes the Reptile Room and heads for the suitcases in the hallway. She thinks about the contents of the suitcases, remember the horrible clothes Mrs Poe bought for the Baudelaires in the last book.

This may not be surprising to us, because we know how disastrous the lives of the Baudelaire orphans are, but Violet’s misfortune was constantly surprising to her and it took her a minute to push thoughts of their situation out of her head and to concentrate on what she had to do.

It takes a wee bit of effort to get the lockpick to do its thing and while she’s working Violet realises that she can see into the Reptile Room where Mr Poe is jumping up and down. She’s witnessing Mr Poe’s spectacular freak out from the last chapter. But someone in the room isn’t watching Mr Poe. Stephano is watching Violet.

Luckily Violet has another idea, rushing into the house to grab some soap to help lubricate the lock she’s trying to pick. It’s risky business considering that Olaf is right there looking at her, and presumably knows what she’s up to. We know what Olaf/Stephano is doing meanwhile, he’s actually bragging to Mr Poe about all the knowledge he has about snakes.

At this moment the lock finally undoes itself: ‘Sometimes even in the most unfortunate of lives there will occur a moment or two or good fortune.’ The Baudelaires are going to have a few of these moments, usually occurring at around this point in the books as we near the finish line.

We get a brief discourse on the nature of the phrase ‘needle in a haystack’. Obviously finding a needle in a haystack is difficult because there’s a whole lot of hay and only one needle. Snicket goes on to point out that finding anything in a haystack makes the task considerably easier, suggesting that you might find ‘hay, of course, but also dirt, bugs, a few farming tools, and maybe even a man who had escaped from prison and was hiding there.’ This is an apt analogy because Violet is looking for anything that might be used as evidence, among these she finds: ‘a glass vial with a sealed rubber cap, as one might find in a scientific laboratory; a syringe with a sharp needle, like the one your doctor uses to give you shots; a small bunch of folded papers; a card laminated in plastic; a powder puff and small hand mirror.

It’s up to Violet to quickly assess each of these things and see how they could have fitted together in Olaf’s nefarious plot. And obviously, she figures something out but the chapter ends before we get to know exactly what this is.

As I mentioned above, I was falling a wee bit behind on my reading, but I’m getting caught up, so expect the next chapter tomorrow afternoon as usual.

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