Thursday, 25 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 13

And so we’ve come to the end of the five book in The Series of Unfortunate Events! Time to read on for the thirteenth and final instalment in this series of reviews… until next week when we move on to The Ersatz Elevator at least.

What Happens?

Mr Poe shows up and the children try to convince the adults that Genghis is Olaf in disguise. Eventually Poe asks him to take off his shoes, at which point Olaf takes off, revealing himself to be exactly who the children have been saying he is for most of the book. Olaf kidnaps the Quagmires, with the help of the two powder-faced women, and as they are driven away Duncan tells Klaus ‘V.F.D.’.

Thoughts as I read:

Judging from the picture that opens this chapter, I think it’s safe to say that Coach Genghis’s true identity is revealed here. At the top is what at first I thought was a bandage but judging from the round jewel flying above the word ‘Chapter’ I’m guessing that was actually the remains of his turban. On the left hand side of the page there’s a hand holding it, but I can’t say there’s anything about the hand which makes it recognisable as belonging to any particular person. At the bottom of the page are the sports shoes, so I guess we’ll learn the true about whether Genghis really has smelly feet here too.

Violet immediately begins questioning Genghis about where the Quagmires are. Genghis acts as though Violet is asking about their belongings and so hands back the hair ribbon and glasses he is carrying. He tells Nero that the children were in such a rush to get to their exam that they forgot their belongings, but that Sunny ‘just sat there like a sack of flour’ so he kicked her to get her moving. This evidently revealed that she was just a bag of flour.

This obviously led to Genghis discovering that the other two children were Duncan and Isadora, who he called twins, rather than the Baudelaires. Apparently getting other children to pretend to be them so they can study for exams is cheating, though Mr Remora does defend them, suggesting that perhaps the exams were more important than running laps. As vice principal Nero declares this cheating and uses this to expel them.

Rather than standing up for the Baudelaires, Remora and Bass just sort of shrug and accept what Nero is telling them. Then again, you can’t really blame them. Nero is so crazy they’d probably lose their jobs if they went against what he wanted. Sunny is then fired, something she’s none too upset about (“Rantaw!” meaning “I never wanted to work as a secretary, anyway!”)

By this point Violet is beyond caring, she just wants to know where the Quagmires are. Genghis reveals that they’re being punished for helping others to cheat. He’s left them in the kitchen. There’s something about the way he talks about them whisking until they’re ‘whisked away’ that’s just a little bit sinister.

Violet is just answering back and being ‘doubly expelled’ by Nero, when Mr Poe shows up. He’s got all the sweets and earrings that the Baudelaires were supposed to give Nero and Carmelita way back about six chapters ago. Apparently Nero sent him a telegram asking for them and Mr Poe didn’t question this at all, instead he just came along to hand them over in person. Presumably this enables him to take the children on to their next set of guardians in about ten pages time.

So Nero fills in Mr Poe about how Violet and Klaus have been cheating and Sunny is a failure as a secretary. Mr Poe is thankfully a little shocked at the thought of Sunny being made to work rather than being looked after, considering she’s , y’know, a baby and all. This is evidently the best time to tell Poe about the fact that Olaf has found them again, after all he already knows that Nero is more than a little bit strange, so Klaus fills him in.

At this point Genghis introduces himself to Poe, who clearly hasn’t gotten used to Olaf’s disguises yet and so points out to the children that this man can’t be Olaf in the most nonsensical way possible:

“Children, I’m surprised at you. Even without an advanced computer system, you should be able to tell that this man isn’t Count Olaf. Olaf has only one eyebrow, and this man is wearing a turban. And Olaf has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, and this man is wearing expensive running shoes…”

Actually I think I’m going to start adopting this method of negating things in real life. My Kindle is in a purple case, and this one has the Angry Birds app downloaded. My labrador has a red collar, and this dog’s got a jacket on.

The children beg Mr Poe to get Olaf/Genghis to take off his turban and running shoes. After a brief discussion about how he cannot take off the turban for religious reasons, Poe actually comes through for the children when he asks Genghis to remove his shoes, happily using the phrase “I think we can all stand a little smelliness if it’s in the cause of criminal justice.” This is a sentiment almost nobody shares.

Genghis/Olaf declines to take off the shoes because he evidently needs them to help him make a speedy getaway. As he takes off he helpfully informs the Baudelaires that he now has a couple of prisoners, who have a small fortune too, and basically warns them he’ll be after them again soon. Lots of things happen in the next couple of pages. Two of the workers from the canteen are revealed to be the white faced women from Olaf’s troupe, and they’ve got the two Quagmire triplets bundled into the back of a waiting car.

Mr Poe is rather slow to cotton on to what is happening here but the Baudelaires are used to running now so they take off after the car and soon everyone else joins in. The Baudelaires reach Olaf first and Violet grabs hold of his turban which promptly comes off revealing the one eyebrow; Sunny undoes his shoelaces, causing his shoes to come off and reveal the eye tattoo. Mr Poe suddenly realises that Genghis is in fact Count Olaf, causing Sunny to say “Merd!” which apparently means “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you” though I suspect a more literal translation might be ‘no shit Sherlock’.

Klaus is more focused on getting the Quagmires out of the car but the white-face women don’t let him. There’s a full on struggle here and in the midst of it all Duncan starts trying to tell Klaus about something they found out during their research. Apparently they never thought to mention this before now. At last as Klaus and the Quagmires lose the battle against the women Duncan just yells ‘V.F.D.’ sparking a hundred theories amongst Series of Unfortunate Events readers for the next few years. Ah, those were the days.

Olaf finally makes it to the car, shoves Klaus out the way, steals the Quagmire notebooks and drives away. Once again out of the lives of the Baudelaires, temporarily. Mr Poe starts squawking about calling the police, but Nero’s refusing to let him use his phone owing to his being completely nuts.

Understandably, at this point the Baudelaires just give up because the adults up until now have been utterly useless when it comes to catching Olaf and this time is evidently going to be no different. I really can’t blame them for bursting into tears right now, I’m imagining this is shear frustration at what the adults around them are like, as well as the loss of their new (and only) friends.

After a while Klaus reveals to his sisters what Duncan said and Sunny tells them “Ceju” meaning “We have to find out.” talking about what V.F.D. could mean. And so we end this book with yet another mystery. We still don’t really know who Beatrice is, we don’t know where Olaf came from, we don’t know where the Baudelaires will go next, we don’t know what V.F.D. is all about, we don’t know what Olaf will do to the Quagmires and we don’t know when the Baudelaires will face him next.

But we’ll start answering those questions next week when we move onto the next book.

First, the final few pages of this one. The last picture is of the two Quagmires being pushed into the car (a funky old-fashioned looking thing) with the archway in the background. Our only clue to the next book is a picture of a fish on the back bumper of the car. I also just have to point out the slightly Burtonesque socks that Duncan has going on, black and white stripes, I approve.

And then we get the letter to the editor telling us that the next book will be The Ersatz Elevator and dropping a few small hints about what will happen next. I’ll be looking at that in more detail tomorrow.

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