Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 2

Onto Chapter 2 of The Austere Academy (I’m now having trouble typing ‘Austere’, it’s going to be a very long month!)


What Happens?

Vice Principal Nero cannot play the violin but does so anyway, badly. He shows them the grounds from his office window, tells Violet and Klaus where their classes will be (and that Sunny will be assuming the role of his secretary). He also tells them a bit about the school rules and punishments, as well as the living accommodation. However the children soon learn that he is a thoroughly unpleasant and cruel man when he tells them where they will be sleeping and then proceeds to laugh them out of his office.

Thoughts as I read:

We actually get a picture to start this chapter, although it doesn’t give very much away. What we can see is someone playing a violin. It’s a man and he’s wearing a waistcoat, but he’s leaning back so we can’t see his face. For a moment I thought we were seeing Sir again but then I realised that the lines around the violin were not supposed to denote smoke but the sound of the violin. It looks spiky so I’m guessing that the music is not good.

While the Baudelaires wait to see Vice Principal Nero they’re reminded of a time before their parents died, when they had been left home alone. The parents had gone to see an orchestra and apparently it was not so good because when he returned Mr Baudelaire said “there is no worse sound in the world than someone who cannot play the violin who insists on doing so anyway.” The Baudelaires are learning the truth in their father’s words because someone in the principal’s office is doing just as their father said.

Violet does entirely the wrong thing here and knocks on the door, interrupting the work of a ‘genius’. Nero appears to be anything but, first of all believing that the awful sounds he was creating were actually desirable, and secondly when Klaus speaks he mocks him in a high pitched voice. Just the sort of person you would want to be running a school.

I couldn’t work out what the pictures were on the violinist’s tie, but we’re informed here that they are snails. Now I know I can see it. I thought they were moons or something. He’s got his hair, what’s left of it at least, tied up into little tufty pigtails. I guess this is why we didn’t see his face in the picture, Helquist didn’t want to spoil this description for us. The office is rather like its owner (right down to the snail patterned curtains) and it’s also home to the advance computer system which from the description is circa about 1992.

Nero then announces himself to the children and instructs them to applaud, as is traditional when a genius is announced.

Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course. Piracy, for example, is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean we should all attack ships and steal their gold.

Mr Snicket speaks the truth here.

Nero also has a strange habit of speaking and then using ‘blah blah blah’ to fill in the words he can’t be bothered to say. It’s a weird thing to do but it does allow things to move a little bit quicker. Nero explains that the children are now in his care because wherever the children have been sent ‘adversity has always followed.’ He goes on to define ‘adversity’ which Klaus corrects him with “‘adversity’ means Count Olaf.” Which is very true. Nero doesn’t really care though, no orchestra appreciates him enough to hire him, so he’s stuck running a school instead. They must have been really desperate to take him on!

All the same, he does attempt to reassure the children, or at least prove to them that their fears are ridiculous, by showing them the computer which has been programmed to recognise Count Olaf. He refuses to go into the details any further though because he’s evidently more intelligent than the children so there’s no point even trying to talk to them.

Instead he takes them to the window to show them the different buildings. The one they are currently in is the administrative building which they are not allowed to visit. Bizarrely the penalty for being there is to not be allowed to use cutlery at their meals. I’m impressed that I remembered that, though admittedly it was triggered by the close examination of the cover.

The children are also assigned their classes. Violet and Klaus are in Room One and Room Two, respectively. Sunny meanwhile has nowhere to go as they do not have classes for babies (imagine that, what sort of prep school is this?!) so she will be employed as a secretary. Sunny sums her feeling up quite well here with “Aregg?” meaning “What? I can’t believe it.” All the same she’s going to be responsible for answering the phone and sorting paperwork, neither of which are things that babies are really capable of. Oh, and if they are at all late then their hands are tied behind their backs so they can’t use them at meals. And Sunny doesn’t get any cutlery because she’s always going to be in the administrative building. One has to question whether this rule applies to other staff members.

Meals are served promptly at breakfast time, lunchtime, and dinnertime. If you’re late we take away your cups and glasses, and your beverages will be served to you in large puddles.

If nothing else, this school certainly does encourage good timekeeping skills!

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, each evening Nero spends six hours giving a violin recital which everyone must attend. You’d think that if he spends that much time playing each day he’d have to improve a little bit, purely because he’d have to occasionally play the right notes just by accident (a million monkeys and all that).

Nero also drops the bombshell that their last gym teacher, Miss Tench, ‘accidentally fell out of a third-storey window a few days ago’ and they’re awaiting a replacement. He doesn’t express much concern about this, instead he’s more interested in the fact that he’s got the children running around during their would-be gym lessons. At least they’re being encouraged to be active I suppose.

Things do seem to look up momentarily when the children ask where they live:

“We have a magnificent dormitory here at Prufrock Prep,” he said. “You can’t miss it. It’s a gray building, entirely made of stone and shaped like a big toe. Inside is a huge living room with a brick fireplace, a game room, and a large lending library. Every student has his or her own room, with a bowl of fresh fruit placed there every Wednesday. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

I’d kind of like to live there! Sunny enthusiastically shrieks “Keeb!” meaning “I like fruit!”.

Unfortunately, much like getting a trip to Hogsmeade, they would need to have permission from a parent or guardian to live there so they’ll be living in a shack in the grounds instead. They get to sleep on hay but they’ve been through tough times before so Nero assumes they’ll be used to it.


He dismisses the children and then starts to laugh, as in ‘hee hee hee’ which we’re told isn’t what he actually said as he laughed, it just represents it. Whatever, it’s mean and he’s not a very nice man. And he doesn’t even wait for the children to leave the room before he starts laughing at them, which does nothing to make them feel any happier!

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