Monday, 16 March 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Penultimate Peril, Chapter 1

So we’re ready to start the first of thirteen chapters of The Penultimate Peril, the twelfth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s a long one, clocking in at just over 350 pages.

It follows on directly from where we left off with book eleven, The Grim Grotto, where we saw the Baudelaires ignoring Mr Poe in order to climb into a taxi with Kit Snicket.

What Happens?

The Baudelaires learn that Kit Snicket has plans for them, though there isn’t time to find out exactly what these plans are because Kit is concerned that they’re being followed. After pulling a crazy driving stunt, which she shouldn’t really do because she’s very pregnant, she tells the Baudelaires to get out of the car for brunch. The children aren’t sure whether or not they can trust her, but their parents apparently did and so the children don’t have much choice.

Thoughts as I read:

A new book means a new dedication, as always to the mysterious Beatrice:

For Beatrice -
No one could extinguish my love,
or your house.


We also have an opening picture. It’s a busy one. We can see the Baudelaires in the back of the taxi, little Sunny is peeking out of the window. Right in the foreground is a man carrying a newspaper, the headline mentions ‘HOTEL D’ which is obviously ‘Hotel Denouement’ but underneath that is ‘NEW CAR…ARY’ which I’m not sure that could be. Possibly ‘Carnival Caligary’? Except that’s spelt ‘Caligari’ so maybe not. Beneath that is the work ‘COLUMN’. There’s two other people walking past as well as lots of big buildings in the distance. I’m not sure they’re particularly relevant.

The opening quote for this chapter:

Certain people have said that the world is like a calm pond, and that anytime a person does even the smallest thing, it is as if a stone has dropped into the pond, spreading circles of ripples further and further out, until the entire world has been changed by one tiny action.

It’s kind of fitting right now, because I read a similar quote about Terry Pratchett’s death last week, about how someone isn’t truly gone until all the ripples of their life have stopped… or words to that effect.

That’s not the point of this quote in this chapter though. Snicket’s actually suggesting that perhaps we might like to use this book to make ripples in a pond. That way we wouldn’t be able to read the book, which would be better for everyone involved. Except the Baudelaires. And obviously we’re not going to follow this advice because we want to know how this story ends.

As it’s the first chapter of a new book we have to establish events up to this point, just in case we’ve forgotten or decided to skip the previous eleven books and start with book twelve. Just so you know, the Baudelaires are in a taxi with Kit Snicket and are looking at the places they recognise around the city where they used to live. It’s a little recap of some of the events that the children have experienced since we first started this series.

We’re also reminded that whenever we solve one mystery we just find another another and another. So we might never get to the bottom of it all, especially as we have a lot of ground to cover between here and the end of the next book.

Kit Snicket immediately starts telling the children that they’ve got to have brunch, disguise themselves as concierges and to start making ‘observations as flaneurs’. The children have really no idea what any of this means. She doesn’t explain herself and instead just quotes ‘A great man once said that right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.’ Which Klaus decodes as meaning that good people can be more powerful than the bad guys.

We then get to hear about the origins of V.F.D. and the schism. Yay! We’re finally solving some mysteries. V.F.D. used to put out fires ‘literally and figuratively’. Since the schism the group has split and some continue with their original purpose, while the others are slightly more nefarious.

Kit reveals that there are more bad people than the Baudelaires have realised, including the man with a beard but no hair and the woman with hair but no beard. She also tells them that enemies are everywhere. Sure enough, right behind them is another taxi with blacked out windows. Kit’s kind of paranoid because when Violet asks why Kit might suspect this taxi of containing enemies she replies ‘A taxi will pick up anyone who signals for one… There are countless wicked people in the world, so it follows that sooner or later a taxi will pick up a wicked person.’

Klaus counters this by pointing out that by the same principle, the taxi could also hold good people. They then discuss the time when the Baudelaire parents had to take a taxi to the opera because their car wouldn’t start. Kit remembers this, which I guess helps us to realise that she is one of the good guys because that night she had to slip them poison darts under Esme Squalor’s nose.

Are you confused yet?

The Baudelaires are. They’re even more confused when Kit suddenly starts driving erratically, spinning the car around and through bushes at the edge of the road. She also chooses this moment to reveal that she’s pregnant. Lucky Kit. Snicket believes that pregnant women should take it easy and not spend their time engaging in car chases away from enemies, real or imagined.

And now it’s time to leave the taxi and head to brunch, apparently. We then get a full page of the Baudelaires running through a list of pertinent questions, culminating with Sunny asking ‘Trust?’ which evidently means ‘Does Kit Snicket seem like a reliable person, and should be follow her?’

Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.

Harder, but not impossible. Take it from me, the person who got a 4.5” splinter in her leg teaching a primary school maths lesson. Tree climbing might actually be safer!

The children don’t have much choice but to follow Kit. They do remember their mother talking about a memorable trip to the opera, which Sunny remembers was ‘La Forza del Destino’ that means ‘the force of destiny’ which I spent ages looking up only to find it was explained further down the page! Snicket then goes on to give an in depth discussion of just what destiny is and how people feel about it, as well as giving away part of the story of this book:

In the opera La Forza del Destino, various characters argue, fall in love, get married in secret, run away to monasteries, go to war, announce that they will get revenge, engage in duels, and drop a gun on the floor, where it goes off accidentally and kills someone in an incident eerily similar to one that happens in chapter nine of this very book, and all the while they are trying to figure out if any of these troubles are the result of destiny.

I kind of like it when books give away the ending, it makes me want to read more quickly to find out how things will happen. Obviously, the Baudelaires don’t know what is coming and whether it’s destiny or something else, it’s not going to end well.

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