Friday, 12 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 4

This week I have been somewhat distracted by NaNoWriMo and fell behind on my reading. Luckily I’ve got time to get caught up but I’m determined to get ahead before the actual insanity kicks off in November. We’ll see how well this goes.

What Happens?

The lessons at Prufrock Prep are really boring and pointless, but Violet and Klaus get through them with the help of the Quagmires. Sunny is less fortunate as she does not make a very good secretary, owing largely to the fact that she's a baby. Together the Quagmires and the Baudelaires work to make the Orphan Shack more habitable. It's actually going quite well for them until Vice Principal Nero shows up with the new gym teacher, Coach Genghis, who looks very familiar.

Thoughts as I read:

The picture that opens this chapter is actually a little trio of pictures. At the centre is a very close up picture of a box of staples, to the left of this picture is a man holding a banana and to the right a woman holding a bit of string or something. They’re all three nicely framed.

In the opening paragraph we’re informed that this style is known as a triptych; basically three panels with a different picture on each. Hey, The Series of Unfortunate Events books are educational. Who knew?!

… my friend Professor Reed made a triptych for me, and he painted fire on one panel, a typewriter on another, and the face of a beautiful, intelligent woman on the third. The triptych is entitled What Happened to Beatrice and I cannot look upon it without weeping.

I love all the little clues about who Beatrice might be. One of my favourite things about this series when it first came out was scouring for little bits that might reveal some of these mysteries.

The triptych at the start of the chapter is essentially the one which Snicket would produce if he were able to paint. We’re then introduced to the Baudelaires’ teachers. Mr Remora was the guy with the banana, he is never seen without one and he chain-eats them. His concept of education consists entirely of telling the children three or four sentence stories which the children must copy town and are tested on. Violet and Duncan are able to pass each other notes but Carmelita often distracts them which makes it hard to make notes on the boring stories.

Klaus’s teacher is Mrs Bass and she is obsessed with the metric system. Her lessons consist of making the children measure random items that she brings to the school each day. Luckily Isadora is in his class so despite the boring lessons they are able to make faces at each other and so entertain themselves.

But their days are positively enlightening compared to poor Sunny’s. She has to answer the telephone, which she does by saying “Seltepia!” which means “Good morning, this is Vice Principal Nero’s office, how may I help you?” Apparently this pisses off Nero because he doesn’t understand how she speaks and neither do the people who she speaks to on the phone. Sunny is also incapable of working the typewriter and completely fails at dictation exercises.

As if Prufrock Prep isn’t bad enough, they don’t even have weekends. Everyday is as bad as it gets. It’s just non-stop banana munching stories, tape measuring classes and doing secretarial stuff that babies aren’t really capable of doing. Nero continues to be completely mental, when Sunny runs out of staples she is forced to make her own out of little pieces of metal. Violet feels much the same way as I do about this, it’s ridiculous. It’s kind of testament to how the story world is constructed because I’ve kind of got to the point now where I just accept this crazy stuff, it’s like it’s suddenly perfectly believable that a baby could be employed as a secretary.

On the plus side they are slowly figuring out how to make the Orphan Shack feel more like home. They’ve discovered salt will make the fungus die off and they’ve made what are essentially tap shoes to help drive away the crabs. How have the children gotten these supplies? Well they’ve basically been driven to stealing things from the school. And the Quagmires are their willing accomplices. I’m not sure that those were the sorts of lessons the school was supposed to teach.

Duncan raises an interesting question when he says “I don’t think people have made staples by hand since the fifteenth century.” I find that hard to believe. When were staples first made anyway? I’m going to have to do some googling, I think. Anyway, Isadora, who is perhaps the brains behind the whole Prufrock Prep Robbery Ring, suggests that Sunny steal the metal rods she is supposed to turn into staples so that they can all help Sunny. I suppose this sort of theft is okay because it’s silly that a baby is expected to do all these things herself.

I do like the discussion of words that rhyme with Olaf and whether or not ‘pilaf’ counts or if it is a half-rhyme. I’m suddenly flashing back to A215 and all that business where I had to write poetry again. *Shudders* It’s quite sweet actually, they’re all talking about how they’re going to write articles about Olaf and set up a printing press for books to rebuild a library. The Quagmires are also heirs to a small fortune, in the form of the Quagmire sapphires which they will get when they come of age. This whole world is just full of children waiting to inherit vast sums of money. Why was I never one of those children?

All this happy planning is interrupted by Nero who has stopped by the Orphan Shack to announce the arrival of the new gym teacher, Coach Genghis. Apparently Genghis is interested in meeting, and I quote, “our orphan population”. Nero is so politically correct!

And there’s something funny about Coach Genghis. It’s not really his clothes, which seem to be as is expected for the gym teacher, with the exception of a turban with a big jewel in the centre. That’s a little bit unusual. Although Violet, Klaus and Sunny quickly figure out why he has this. You see, the turban doesn’t just cover Genghis’s head, it covers his eyebrows as well. Or should I say eyebrow. Can you guess who Genghis is?

I’ll give you a clue. He has ‘shiny, shiny eyes’.

Looks like the Baudelaires should start running now.

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