Friday, 4 July 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 4

I'm off the painkillers again now so finding reading a wee bit easier and hopefully what I'm writing is a little more coherent. At least, that's the theory, I'll make no guarantees about the practice!

What Happens?

The children find themselves regretting not acting sooner when Count Olaf shows up on the scene. He continues to claim to be Stephano but eventually gives in when the children call him on it. Olaf threatens them with violence against Sunny if they try anything. They're forced to wait for Uncle Monty to return home but even then they are unable to tell him who Stephano really is.

Thoughts as I read:

Now that Count Olaf has returned we've got the eyes creeping back in again. The illustration at the beginning of Chapter Four is a tall narrow one, taking up about a third of the page. It shows a man with a long beard and a crooked nose wearing a long jacket, and carrying a round padlocked case. The case has a bunch of stickers on it and the three we can see are a skull and crossbones, a snake (which took me a moment to see because I was looking at it from the wrong angle) and an eye. Looks like he's still watching them.

Once again this chapter starts off with a bit of a truism:

"One of the most difficult things to think about in life is one's regrets. Something will happen to you, and you will do the wrong thing, and for years afterward you will wish you had done something different."

Snicket goes on to give examples of what these might be, such as a time when he should've had a flashlight and regretted it ever since. Obviously this is one of those moments for the Baudelaires. We already know that the events that follow aren't going to end well for anyone, least of all Uncle Monty. Klaus wishes afterwards that he had called out for the taxi driver to take the man calling himself Stephano away. Just in case we'd forgotten that Monty isn't going to make it to the end of the book still breathing, Klaus realises that if he'd acted on his impulse Monty might have survived.

Fittingly, Olaf is referred to as the Baudelaires' 'nemesis' as he asks them to carry his bag to his room. Violet picks this moment to let him know that she's onto him, calling him 'Count Olaf'. He's a pretty bad actor, as we learned in the last book, he claims he's Stephano and knows nothing about Count Olaf. I remember being a little bit puzzled at this point on my first read through, wondering whether the children might have been getting things wrong. Clearly I was being naive.

One of the major clues that he's Count Olaf is his calling the children 'midgets'. It's blatantly the sort of thing Olaf would say. Klaus says as much and refuses to let him in. Sunny shrieks "Futa!" which the narrator suggests means "I agree!" but which I actually think is her attempt to say 'Futile'. Olaf has his sights set on the children and nothing is going to stop him; he wants their money.

We get a little reminder of more of the events of the previous book as the children remember how violent Olaf can be. We get that familiar little repetition as each child remembers their recent experiences; Klaus remembers his bruised face, Sunny being snatched and suspended from the tower in a birdcage, and Violet didn't experience any actual violence, but she did almost become his child bride. This is enough to prompt them into action where they actually carry his suitcase as requested.

As if we needed more proof that the person we're dealing with is in fact Count Olaf, we're told that the children can smell his stale breath. Charming.

The children push Olaf to reveal himself as who he really is and he finally cracks. This time he's the one who gives us the repetition as he criticises each child in turn; Violet is still stubborn, Klaus's glasses are idiotic, and he claims Sunny is missing a toe. Sunny responds with "Fut!" which I'm guessing is referring to her feet but is given a definition of "I do not!"

He's not actually saying she has nine toes. It's a threat. He's implying that if the children aren't careful there's a very strong possibility that she'll be involved in an accident that'll stop the piggy that went to market from coming home again! Klaus's reply to this is entirely the wrong thing to say, "You wouldn't dare". Surely he knows that this is the best way to ensure that Olaf follows through with his promise.

Violet concedes that she'll call Olaf 'Stephano' then leads her siblings away before he can reply. I like that standing up to him at the end of The Bad Beginning seems to have given Violet a little boost of confidence. I suppose that finding a way to defeat him once makes her feel like she's able to do it again in the future. She's been given some hope and it's just sad that the events of this book could potentially crush her spirit again.

The paragraph that follows tells us that Violet, Klaus and Sunny might have been acting brave, but really they're petrified. Just to highlight this, we get a bit more repetition; having retreated to the Reptile Room, Violet ends up leaning against a cage, covering her face with her hands; Klaus collapses into a chair; and Sunny curls up on the floor, perhaps remembering her former sleeping arrangements.

The children are obviously shaken by this. It's interesting how simplistic the writing is at times; we don't get much more about what they're feeling, besides the way they act and speak, as well as the actual words they say, but it all conveys an awful lot. I can't help but think how different in style it is from J.K. Rowling, who I've been reading a fair bit of recently. You get a lot less information about the world and a lot more random bits of information that don't actually have any bearing on the events in the story. It's not necessarily good or bad, it's just different.

Basically the children don't know how he's found them, but they know what he's going to want to do to them now he has. Monty's not going to be back for hours, leaving him trapped alone with Olaf for all that time. They quickly dismiss the idea of calling Mr Poe because he was so useless last time. I wonder, after having seen how evil Olaf was with his own eyes, if he might be more inclined to believe the children this time around. We'll never know because he's let them down once too often now.

They have so little confidence in Mr Poe that running away actually seems preferable to contacting him for help. They swing from seeming really mature and logical to being really childish sometimes. It's almost jarring at times but then again, when you consider their ages, it's also understandable. Klaus is all for changing their names and even suggests they could get jobs. This might work if they were ten years older, though he does concede that Sunny probably wouldn't be able to get a job just yet so he's not thinking completely irrationally.

As in the last book, the children use this as a moment for some quiet contemplation on their life since their parents were killed in the fire. I can't help but be annoyed with their parents for not making more adequate provision for their children as well as with Mr Poe for being so totally hopeless.

Luckily this moment of pause allows Violet to get her head straight. She knows that they can't run away and she's also realised something that I didn't think of; where Olaf is, his assistants can't be far behind. She suspects that they have the house surrounded, which explains Olaf's glance back at one of the hedges before he entered the house. At least I'm not alone in failing to factor the henchmen (and women) into the equation.

For those people who have forgotten, or maybe haven't read the first book, we're reminded of the whole crew of them. As the last book largely had us seeing the hook-handed man I'm wondering if this book will let us see more of one of the henchmen. I really don't remember as much of this book as I was expecting to.

Violet, the current voice of reason, has decided that they will wait for Uncle Monty to come back. They will use Olaf's eye tattoo as proof that he's not who he says he is. She's confident that this will be enough to solve the problem. Klaus is more sceptical, he's even wondering if perhaps Monty is in cahoots with Olaf. It's almost like the tables have turned and now Klaus is as untrusting as Violet was in the last book. It's quite interesting to see how the children change with each experience with Olaf.

Sunny is still fairly innocent and optimistic. Her response to Klaus is "Minda!" which probably means "Don't be ridiculous, Klaus!" I'm wondering how long it will take for Sunny to pass through this phase that both Violet and Klaus have experienced.

Then Violet actually uses the term 'cahoots' which I didn't actually see before I used the exact same two up there. Not actually relevant to the story, but made me smile. Basically Violet sets Klaus straight about the whole Monty/Olaf plot, pointing out that if it was the case Olaf wouldn't have been introduced as Stephano. And with that she brings her brother around to her way of thinking, Sunny agrees with a "Tojoo".

We then get a short discourse on waiting. How hard it is to get through the boring or bad stuff while you wait for the good. We get more of the classic repetition as each child works at their allotted tasks but none of them are able to concentrate properly. It looks like Sunny might be feeling a little bit depressed now actually, because she doesn't want to bite rope or play with her new best friend, the Incredibly Deadly Viper. It must be even harder for Sunny than for the other two because she's not properly able to articulate all the things that she is thinking or feeling. Her siblings understand her to a point, but I'm sure her little one word utterances can't convey everything she would like to say.

Uncle Monty eventually shows up hours and hours later with everything that he was looking for, presumably including the hard to find canned peaches. The children don't rush out to greet him, which is something else that they live to regret, suggesting that they could've saved him if they'd acted differently at that moment. But Stephano/Olaf gets to him first.

They are having a discussion about extra-firm toothbrushes. Presumably Olaf doesn't know what an extra-firm toothbrush is actually like, considering he has such bad breath. I doubt whether thinking about dental hygiene is particularly high on his list of priorities.

The children aren't able to convey quite how urgently they need to speak to Monty. He's more concerned with unloading the car and showing everyone all the things he bought. Worst of all, he wants Klaus to help Stephano with the canoe and even tells him off when he tries to interrupt.

Things are not going well and once again it's because the adults aren't paying proper attention to the children. I think that's probably something that appeals to children reading these books. How many times as a child did you want to tell an adult something really important and they just didn't listen, or pay attention in the way you wanted them or, or didn't respond in the right way? I think these books help to validate that feeling in children that what you have to say is important and sometimes it's the adults that are in the wrong.

Anyway, as Violet tries to tell Monty she spots Stephano out of the corner of her eye. And he's playing with the knife. Everyone but Monty notices this and gets the meaning straight away. If Violet says anything, Klaus, who is standing right next to Olaf, is going to get hurt again. And probably seriously this time.

Violet has a second to weigh up her options. If she tells Monty, then he'll know but Klaus will get hurt; if she doesn't tell him, they'll remain in danger but Klaus will be safely in danger for a little bit longer. It's quite a philosophical question really. On the one hand once Monty knew the truth, he might be able to act on it, but how much damage could Olaf do in that time. Depending on where he struck Klaus he might kill him, would Violet be able to cope with the guilt that would create? And it's not like she's got the option of mulling it over for while. She has to decide on the right thing immediately, and like all good big sisters, she doesn't want to see her brother hurt.

This is quite a long chapter for these books, it's actually almost twenty pages long! There's quite a lot here which sort of links back to the first book. I think that information is there mainly to serve as a reminder for the people who've either skipped straight to the second book (who does that?!) or the people who've had a long gap between finishing one book and starting the next.

I vaguely know what's going to come in the rest of the book, but I don't remember it as well as I thought I did, so bits of it are coming as a bit of a surprise to me. I think that's helping me to enjoy this one more than the first one because so much of that was really familiar.

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