Friday, 24 October 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Vile Village, Chapter 1

Here we are starting the seventh book in The Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s taken us a surprisingly short time to get here (though a little longer to get to this chapter considering I've postponed it to give me more reading time). I’m quite enjoying watching the gap for the missing book moving along the bookcase. It’s also alarming how much thicker the books at this end are getting compared to the ones on the far left.

Better stop typing and get reading.

What Happens?

The children learn that they have no more relatives who are willing to take them in so instead Mr Poe is going to farm them out to a whole village to look after them instead. One of the village names on the list is very familiar to the Baudelaires.

Thoughts as I read:

As this is the first few pages of a new book, we’ve got a new dedication, to Beatrice as usual:

For Beatrice -
When we were together I felt breathless.
Now, you are.

How very romantic.

And another new book means another big picture in the opening pages. This one shows the three Baudelaires, with their luggage, standing beside a bench and a sign saying V.F.D. There’s a bird, a crow, perched on the sign. There are a few more flying around in the distance as well. Speaking of in the distance, there’s obviously buildings away back there, but I’m more distracted by the giant clouds up ahead. Are they smoke? Dust? Just regular clouds? We’ll hopefully find out in the coming pages.

No matter who you are, no matter where you live, and no matter how many people are chasing you, what you don’t read is often as important as what you do read.

Sound words of advice from Mr Snicket, the man who loves commas almost as much as I do.

We’re also given examples of times when not reading things is bad, like warning signs or cookery books. Snicket then goes on to suggest that we might all be happier if we leave this book alone and go for some charming literature like The Littlest Elf. Obviously, due to my lack of ownership of a copy of The Littlest Elf I am forced to continue to suffer as I learn about the miserable lives of the Baudelaires. And if you’re reading this, then I’m dragging you along for the ride!

As the story begins the Baudelaires are reading a newspaper. The newspaper in question is The Daily Punctilio which is declaring “TWINS CAPTURED BY COUNT OMAR” can you spot the two deliberate mistakes there? This helps to remind us of what has happened so far, and at the same time allows us a quick recap of the primary talents of each of the Baudelaires. For those of us who are struggling to keep up; Violet invents, Klaus reads and, in her own words, Sunny “Krechin!” meaning “And if I used my four big teeth to bite something as sloppily, I wouldn’t even leave one toothmark!”

We also learn that the children are currently in Mr Poe’s office as they take it in turns to correct the newspaper report. Firstly, the Quagmires, while there are only two of them, are actually triplets having lost their brother in the first that orphaned them. Secondly, the count who has abducted them is Olaf, not Omar. And thirdly, “Esme!” says Sunny, pointing out that Esme was part of Olaf’s plot and wasn’t kidnapped like the paper says.

The children also lament all the things that go unmentioned in the newspaper. All the things we already know about the Quagmires and the Baudelaires and why Olaf is after them all. We also get a quick recap of the events at the end of the last book. Hopefully we already remember them quite clearly. I do, but that’s because I’m writing this blog post hours after finishing that book so it’s all very fresh in my mind.

Mr Poe shows up at this point, coughing as usual, and we’re giving another recap, this time of how incompetent he is when it comes to finding suitable guardians for the Baudelaires. The latest in the search for new caretakers for the children is proving a little bit tricky. Everyone has heard about the trouble, namely Olaf, that follows them wherever they go, and no one is keen to take them on.

As if to illustrate this, Mr Poe gets a phone call from their nineteenth cousin, a man by the name of Mr. Fagin. Wonder if he teaches kids how to pick pockets? We’ll never know because Fagin has hear of the Baudelaires’ reputation and wants nothing to do with them. And if that’s not bad enough, Poe is concerned that his associating with the children is damaging the reputation of the bank. I think he manages that all by himself personally!

Mr Poe is as disappointed with the newspaper article as the children are. Unfortunately his disappointment stems from the fact that he did not get his picture alongside the children. Priorities again, Mr Poe. Before we can delve into this too deeply the phone rings again and Mr Poe announces that this call has solved the problem.

The Baudelaires looked at one another. Had Count Olaf been arrests? Had the Quagmires been saved? Had someone invented a way to go back in time and rescue their parents from the terrible fire? How could all of their problems have been solved with one phone call to a banker?

Sunny asks “Plinn?” which I’m guessing is all of these questions in one. But no, Mr Poe simply tells them the aphorism “It takes a village to raise a child.” This does not actually give them very much information about how this will solve all of their problems. Klaus thinks he’s heard about an African tribe who live by this aphorism so wonders if they are about to be sent to Africa.

They’re not. They’ve joined a programme where villages sign up to take in an orphan and the whole village raises the child. Mr Poe isn’t entirely clear on how this will work, he can’t see how everyone will do everything for them, instead suggesting the villagers will take it in turns to look after them, like tucking them into bed at night. Sunny is unimpressed, “Snoita!” meaning “I prefer to be tucked into bed by my siblings, not by strangers!” Poor Sunny.

To relieve any worries the children might have Mr Poe hands the children a brochure about the scheme. It’s the typical sort of brochure advertising any programme that wants people to sign up for it; lots of smiling photos, testimonies about how wonderful it is. And on the back there’s a list of willing villages. The children are a little worried at the prospect of having a whole village of people looking after them, questioning whether this will be enough to keep Olaf away.

So we get a list of places where they might potentially go. Paltryville is one, at which Sunny says “Calten!” meaning “I wouldn’t return there for all the tea in China!”. There’s Tedia and Ophelia which prompts:

“No, no,” Mr. Poe said. “I won’t have you living in the same town as the Ophelia Bank. It’s one of my least favourite banks, and I don’t want to have to walk by it when I visit you.”

Sunny points out “Zounce!” meaning “That’s ridiculous!” but then they spot a potential village which prompts Sunny to say “Gounce!” which means “Let’s live there!” They’ve spotted a village which appears to go by the name V.F.D.

Looks like we’ll be going there next then.

Except we'll have to wait until next week to find out what life will be like there because as you're reading this, I'm heading off to Edinburgh for my graduation tomorrow. Check back next Friday for the next installment.

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