Friday, 19 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 9

If yesterday’s chapter was short, then this chapter is really long. It’s about twenty pages, which I guess means there is going to be quite a bit of action going on here. The second chapter I’ll be reading later today is another fairly short one, so let’s get this underway.

What Happens?

The Baudelaires manage to keep up the late night jogging sessions for nine whole nights by which point they are basically zombies and barely able to continue. They're still none the wiser about what Olaf's plan is, that is until Carmelita Spats delivers a message summoning them to Nero's office. Nero informs them that they're failing and unless they pass an incredibly difficult exam the following day they will be expelled, at which point they will be handed over to Coach Genghis to homeschool. So between them the Baudelaires and Quagmires try to come up with a plan to get out of this situation.

Thoughts as I read:

The image at the start of this chapter is a fairly simple little sketch but I think it does a good job of showing a fair bit of detail. It’s just three children running, well, two running, one crawling. But you can see from the way they are drawn, all kind of droopy, that they’re really tired. And the sun is coming up, so they’ve obviously been at it all night again

This chapter has another of those lovely openings, this time discussing how the concept of curtains gradually grow in importance in our lives as we get older; as babies we view them as strange pieces of cloth at the window, but as adults we develop preferences for particular sorts of window coverings. I always love to see where Snicket is going with these little random tangents.

The S.O.R.E. training does not improve with repeated experience, it just gets worse and worse. After all, the first time it was just running laps, but the second time is running laps after not sleeping much the night before. It’s basically a repeat of the first night but they’re more tired and it hurts a lot more. There’s not really much more I can say to this, it goes on for about three pages explaining what the children are made to do and how bad it is. The Quagmires are still spying on them but they’re no closer to figuring out what Olaf is planning.

Snicket explains that the Baudelaires kept going even though they couldn’t imagine how they could because they found hitherto unknown reserves within themselves. And so it goes for nine whole nights. I’d probably die after one.

And I’ve just realised something else. We keep getting told all this exercise makes them sweaty. Does the Orphan Shack have a bathroom? Are they able to shower after these sessions? Do they even have a toilet? I need to know these things.

As I’m sure you know, a good night’s sleep helps you perform well in school, and so if you are a student you should always get a good night’s sleep unless you have come to the good part of your book, and then you should stay up all night and let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, a phrase which means “flunk”.

Obviously the Baudelaires are getting anything but a good night’s sleep and so their school work is definitely going downhill. Violet and Klaus stop listening to stories and measuring things, and Sunny doesn’t do any of her secretarial jobs. Klaus and Violet both get zeroes in their tests while Sunny completely runs out out of staples. It’s a disaster all round.

It’s really getting to them as well. Isadora calls the situation ridiculous and Klaus nearly bites her head off, calling her ‘cakesniffer’. Sunny tries to get him to stop or maybe joins in the argument with a “Mumdum!”. I can relate. I’m a bit of a bitch when I’m tired. Klaus is worried that a few more all night jogging sessions and he’ll be turning into Carmelita Spats. I don’t think he has much to worry about there, Klaus could never pull off the ringlets look.

And speak of the devil. Carmelita Spats shows up again and this time she’s got two messages. The first message is the same one as usual; meet Genghis on the front lawn for another jogging session. The second is an urgent summons to visit Vice Principal Nero. I wonder what this means for them, if they go back into the administrative building by rights they should get their cutlery taken away, but that’s already been done. There’s not much more they can have taken away from them, they don’t really have any dignity left any more!

Isadora is hopeful that the reason the Baudelaires have been summoned to the office is because Nero has figured out who Genghis really is, but that’s highly unlikely, for no other reason than the fact that we’ve still got about another four chapters to go and it’s never going to be wrapped up that quickly.

And on the next page we discover we’re right. Nero has summoned them because they keep missing his concerts which means they owe him a bag of candy each for each concert they’ve missed. He calculates this to be twenty-nine (three times nine) which means he’s more of an idiot than I thought he was, I mean, you can work out the nine times table on your fingers and he’s supposed to be in charge of a school. Silly man!

He also goes on to suggest that they give Carmelita Spats a tip for all the messages she’s delivered to them. I think a good tip would be to tell her to be nicer and stop calling people cakesniffers, but Nero things a pair of earrings for each message is a fair price. He’s such a ridiculously evil character, he’s basically as bad as Olaf is.

As if this wasn’t enough, he then reprimands them for failing at their tests and staple making. This is pretty unreasonable and all three Baudelaires protest at this. Violet points out that they’re exhausted, Klaus points out they’re running laps all night every night, and Sunny shrieks “Galuka!” meaning “So yell at Coach Genghis, not at us!” And how does Nero respond? Does he immediately call up Coach Genghis and ask him what’s going on? Does he promise to let the Baudelaires have a night off every once and a while? Does he offer to get proper beds put in the Orphan Shack and clear out the crabs?

No, of course he doesn’t!

He mocks the Baudelaires in his silly voice and then tells them that if they flunk the bit exam the following day, or in Sunny’s case fail to staple anything, then they will be expelled. And if getting expelled sounds like the preferable option, it’s not. Expulsion means that Coach Genghis will homeschool them. You do have to wonder whether anyone has questioned this teacher’s abnormal interest in these children. I know we’re way too quick to assume dangers for children when perhaps there aren’t any, but come on, he makes them exhausted by spending all night with them and now wants to take them home too. Suspicious!

Violet loses it and comes right out and calls Genghis Olaf. Even Sunny agrees that this is a desperate situation and they can’t pretend any longer, except she phrases it more like “Hifijoo!” But Nero won’t hear any of it and resorts back to his old favourite, showing them his computer system as if his proves that Genghis is exactly who he says he is. Sunny is standing up for her siblings here with “Ushilo!” meaning “That doesn’t prove anything!” And just like that they’re dismissed.

It’s really hardly any wonder the Baudelaires don’t really trust any adults and feel like they just have to rely on themselves, and now the Quagmires, because they keep coming up against people like Sir and Nero, and to a certain extend Josephine and Mr Poe. Things really are going from bad to worse for them.

Outside the administrative building they fill the Quagmires in on what went down inside the office. At least now they do know what Olaf’s plan is. He’s going to wear them out so much they’ll fail their exams and then he’d be able to take them away to ‘homeschool’ them. Though Violet knows that whatever he has planned will be much worse than just educating them in his own home.

Their only option is to come up with some sort of plan before the following morning when the exams are due to take place (“Plan!” Sunny agreed.) This is going to take some work though, somehow the children need to be able to study and make staples whilst staying awake and running all night. Very tricky. But there is one difference this time compared to the last four times the Baudelaires have pitted their wits against Olaf.

This time there’s more than just the three of them, so while Violet ties up her hair, Sunny grits her teeth and Klaus polishes his glasses, Isadora and Duncan Quagmire pull out their notebooks and with the five of them working together we can’t help but feel a little bit hopeful that they might just do it.


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