Thursday, 11 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 3

I think that The Austere Academy is a little bit longer than the books that have come so far in the series. The chapters certainly feel a little bit longer. I'm trying not to let these reviews get too much longer than they already are, but uh, you probably know by now that I'm not much good at keeping things short.

What Happens?

The children discover the shack where they are to sleep is also home to a host of crabs the size of matchboxes. It is also painted in garish colours and has fungus dripping from the ceiling. At lunchtime the Baudelaires have a run in with Carmelita Spats before making the acquaintance of the Quagmires, Duncan and Isadora. They immediately become good friends and spend an enjoyable afternoon together.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter opens with a picture which is both at the top and bottom of the page. At the top of the page there is a delightfully disgusting looking gloopy substance. It's actually starting to drip down the page. Beneath the text are four crabs which seem to be reaching up towards the gloopiness. They're standing on what appears to be hay so I think it's safe to say that we're in the shack accommodating the Baudelaires.

The chapter kicks off with a discussion of the phrase 'making a mountain out of a molehill' and what this actually means. Snicket goes into great depth, a phrase which here means 'goes on for over a page', about the difference between mountains and molehills and how one might tell the difference between the two. The point of this is to establish that Nero wasn't making a mountain out of a molehill about their living arrangements. The shack really is as bad as it sounded.

In fact, it's worse. Not only is it made of tin, entirely lacking in features such as fresh fruit and a library, and has bales of hay in place of beds, it also provides a home for lots of small crabs. Hence the picture at the beginning of the chapter. Oh, and remember the drippy stuff a couple of pages back. That's fungus, apparently it's not harmful (though one could argue that any fungus is pretty bad if it's growing on the ceiling of your bedroom). Not only is the floor snappy and the ceiling drippy, the walls are lime green with pink hearts on which does not improve the look of the place at all.

It would appear that the experience of living in close quarters with Phil, the eternal optimist from The Miserable Mill, has rubbed off on the children. Violet speculates about an invention to save them from the crabs, Klaus hopes he can read up on a way to get rid of the fungus, and Sunny says "Ivoser" meaning "I bet I can use my four sharp teeth to scrape this paint away and make the walls a bit less ugly." I wouldn't do that if I were you Sunny, Nero doesn't seem big on health and safety; that paint's probably lead based or something and I'd hate for Klaus to have to read up on effects of lead ingestion in infants.

And here my question about the Baudelaire's education is answered. Klaus is enthusiastic about getting back to school as he's 'missed being in a real classroom'. I suppose this means that they did once go to school. In which case, why has Mr Poe not been more concerned about this interruption to their education?! Or perhaps it's been the summer holidays. Hmm... Sunny is also enthusiastic about the new opportunities presented to her: "Wonic" meaning "And learning secretarial skills is an exciting opportunity for me, although I should really be in nursery school instead."

They are also hopefully that the computer might actually succeed in keeping Olaf away. Perhaps they can spend the next few years surviving school until they come into their inheritance and Violet can arrange something better for them. Violet decides that providing Olaf isn't in the shack, it's not so bad. Sunny agrees with a "Olo" which means "Even if it's ugly, damp, and filled with crabs."

Apparently this is not the best thing to say because this reminds them of the awful place they're being made to live. It might not have Count Olaf in it, but it's not exactly a happy place to stay.

And then they move on to discuss the school's ridiculous rules. Particularly the one which will affect Sunny most of all. Technically Sunny isn't a student, she's a staff member so the rules shouldn't apply to her. Sunny is still trying to be optimistic "Kalc!" meaning "Don't worry about it. I'm a baby, so I hardly ever use silverware. It doesn't matter that it'll be taken away from me."

Several years before this story took place, when Violet was ten and Klaus was eight and Sunny was not even a fetus...

I just had to include this because I love it.

There's a massive lasagna waiting for them in the cafeteria which is just sort of divided up to the children in the queue. I suppose that might be more efficient than lots of little lasagnas. All the other food is piled in massive heaps. I wonder how many students there are in this school for this to be the best way to feed them all!

There are quite a few children who don't have silverware, others who have their hands behind their backs and some who apparently aren't allowed any cups or glasses. I wonder what Ofsted would make of these punishments.

We also get a quick glimpse into the Baudelaires' lives before they lost their parents. They would have sat with their friends at lunchtime, apparently, but obviously here they have no friends and they are concerned about sitting in the wrong place or breaking some unspoken rule. Bizarrely they decide that at this moment the best place to sit is beside the girl who called them 'cakesniffers' a couple of chapters back. I don't know about you, but if someone calls me a name I don't usually go out of my way to sit near them.

Snicket explains this away as the Baudelaires not knowing how bad Carmelita Spats is. She helpfully fills them in and tells them that their home is known as the 'Orphans Shack'. In this world parentless children are enough of a common commodity that private schools have whole areas of residence for them. Interesting.

As if we weren't convinced that Carmelita is thoroughly unpleasant young woman, she then gets everyone in the cafeteria chanting 'Cakesniffing orphans in the Orphan Snack' which as far as chants go is kind of catchy. Just as it's looking like everyone hates the Baudelaires a voice pipes up telling Carmelita to shut up and so the Baudelaires make their first friends at Prufrock Prep.

And so the Baudelaires make the acquaintance of the Qugamires; Duncan and Isadora who look very alike. They both carry notebooks with them (I like them already). Isadora writes poetry which Sunny is very interested in ("Saphho!" meaning "I'd be very pleased to hear a poem of yours!"). Isadora's poetry takes the shape of rhyming couplets and we get an example of one about Carmelita.

Then the plot thickens, you see, the Quagmires lost their parents in a fire too. Interesting. And, y'know, tragic too. The Baudelaire's sympathise (or "Bloni" in Sunny's case). They then swap stories about their pasts, including Josephine and her fear of exploding stoves which was apparently a worry for the Quagmires for a while as well.

The Quagmires sympathise right back with the Baudelaires when they discover that they are the current residents of the Orphans Shack. Apparently they had to stay there for a while as well. This turns out to be a good thing because Duncan, aspiring journalist, has a list of things they tried to scare the crabs away as they aren't overly fond of loud noises. This means the Baudelaires will be okay so long as they can learn to sleep through loud noises then.

Within minutes Violet has come up with the idea of basically tap dancing the entire time they're in the shack and Duncan offers to lend them books from the library to help with the fungus. Sunny is very enthusiastic about this "Zatwal!" which Violet translates as "We'd love to see the library." Then she puts her foot in it and calls the Quagmires 'twins'.

This kind of reminds me of a book I had with puzzles and riddles in it. One of the riddles was something along the lines of: There are two children, born on the same day, of the same month, of the same year, to the same mother, but they are not twins. How can this be? The answer is, they're triplets. Just as the Quagmires are, except Quigley, their brother, was also killed in the fire with their parents. Their story just gets more and more tragic.

There are no hard feelings and so the Baudelaires get to visit the library with their new friends. Suddenly things at Prufrock Prep don't seem quite so bad. Even if they do have to live in the Orphans Shack, at least they have friends and access to a wonderful library.

But this the Baudelaires we are talking about, so obviously things aren't going to stay like this for long.

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