Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Miserable Mill, Chapter 2

It’s 4pm so time for another Chapter-by-Chapter review of the fourth book in the Series of Unfortunate Events.

What Happens?

The children enter the lumbermill grounds to find a letter addressed to them, which tells them where they are to sleep and work, they try to stay optimistic about this new situation. At the dormitory they meet the optimistic Phil who questions their suitability to work in the mill before giving them a tour which does not take very long. By bedtime we have established that the Baudelaires are most definitely not optimists.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter opens with a small picture of Paltryville, looking at the fence surrounding the lumbermill. The fence seems to be made of sharpened tree trunks and alongside it there are stacks and stacks of newspapers. The factory in the distance is pumping out lots of smoke. Looks like such a cheerful place.
I like how this chapter opens:

It is much, much worse to receive bad news through the written word than by somebody simply telling you, and I’m sure you understand why. When somebody simply tells you bad news, you hear it once, and that’s the end of it. But when bad news is written down, whether in a letter or a newspaper or on your arm in felt tip pen, each time you read it, you feel as if you are receiving the news again and again.

Snicket follows this up with the story of Beatrice who wrote a 200-page book explaining why she could not marry him, which was delivered by carrier pigeons. Snicket’s clearly not over this rejection because he’s still dedicating each one of these books to her, despite the fact that not only did she not want to marry him, but she’s also dead so the likelihood of their relationship status changing any time soon is pretty slim!

The Baudelaires enter the grounds of the lumbermill to find an envelope left on the floor addressed to them. It contains a memorandum giving them a map of the lumbermill, telling them they will sleep in the dormitory and will work with the other lumbermill employees. This comes as a bit of a surprise to the children as they were under the impression that they would merely be living at Lucky Smells, not working there. Oh and the map is attached to the memorandum with a bit of gum. Lovely.

The children have had such a rotten time of things lately that they can’t seem to help themselves as they try to find the positive in this situation. Klaus suggests that there will be all sorts of equipment for Violet to study and Violet gets in on the act saying that Sunny might find some hard wood to bite. This appeals to Sunny who shrieks “Snevi!” Klaus continues to stay optimistic, hoping for interesting lumbermill manuals. Bizarrely this little exchange makes them all feel a little better about the situation, which I think just goes to show how awful their lives have been of late.

Just in case we were starting to feel optimistic, Snicket shoots us down. He’s been there and has heard all about all the awful things that happen to them in the pages to come. He wishes there was some way he could have warned them, etc. So we’re about halfway through the second chapter and I’m already feeling kind of bummed out.

The children knock at the door to one of the lumbermill buildings which is opened by a man who is covered in sawdust. He tells them that they’re the first callers for fourteen years, which throws the children a little bit so they ignore his comment and introduce themselves. Apparently they don’t have visitors at the lumbermill, or rather, they’re not allowed. This seems to further confuse the old man so Sunny says “Cigam!” which means “Look at this note!”

The man is still confused, even looking at the note, after all, working in a lumbermill is hardly a job for children. He details the jobs that are undertaken in the mill; the bark is stripped from the trees, they’re sawed into boards, these are then tied together and loaded onto trucks. But he doesn’t press the matter much further and invites them in, finally introducing himself as Phil.

He takes them into the dormitory where they see lots of other people all covered in sawdust. The room smells damp (apparently due to the lack of windows) and some people have drawn on the walls in biro which has not added to the ambience at all. He shows the children to a bunk and gives them the grand tour:

You can store your bag underneath the bed. Through that door is the bathroom and down that hallways over there is the kitchen.

Yeah, that’s it. Fantastic place for three children to live. One of the women in the room again questions their ability to work in the mill before the conversation turns to the owner. They’ve not seen him for years, instead they get their instructions from the foreman. Sunny’s never heard of this job title before and asked “What’s a foreman?” except in her way of speaking it comes out as “Teruca?”

The general consensus is that the foreman is a horrible person. His predecessor, Foreman Firstein, wasn’t bad but the new guy, Foreman Flacutono, is awful. And let’s just look at his name for moment… Flacutono? Flao cuton? Olaf count? Count Olaf? Hmm…

This news does not help the children to feel particularly settled in their new accommodation. Meanwhile, we are told that Phil is an optimist. I like to think that I’m fairly optimistic but I clearly would lose out to Phil who is more of the sort of optimist of this sort:

For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chews off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my left arm any more, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”

The children are most definitely not eternal optimists, they’ve have plenty of time to learn not to be now so you can’t really blame them for feeling utterly miserable as they get ready for bed, missing their parents the whole time. They shouldn’t be sharing a bunk bed in a smelly dormitory, surrounded by strange adults; their parents should be tucking them in and reassuring them that everything will be all right.

But this is not that sort of book, so don’t expect anything positive to happen for a while.


  1. I haven't read this book. Sounds like some might like it though.

    1. They're a reallygood series. Although they're children's books there are an awful lot of references that only adults would get.


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