Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Penultimate Peril, Chapter 2

The last chapter of The Penultimate Peril was quite short, serving mainly to recap the events in A Series of Unfortunate Events so far. Now the Baudelaires are getting ready to have brunch with Kit Snicket and hopefully find out exactly what she has planned for them.

What Happens?

Kit and the Baudelaires are at the Hotel Denouement which has a weird mirror image thing going on. Kit explains that there is someone posing as Jacques Snicket who will be checking into the hotel and it is up to the Baudelaires to see if he is a good guy or a bad guy. If he’s good then they’re to see that he gets the sugar bowl, if not, they must keep it from him at all costs. There’s someone there who will help them, named Frank, though his identical twin brother Ernest might try and stop them. Kit leaves them to get changed into their concierge outfits and Violet signals to Frank that they have arrived.

Thoughts as I read:

The chapter image at the top of this chapter is one of my favourite sorts, one that plays around with the words. It shows the three Baudelaires and Kit Snicket, bump and all, kneeling beside some still water. They’ve got the words ‘Chapter Two’ in mirror writing beside them and it’s there the correct way round (if upside down) in the reflection in the water. It doesn’t look like they’re going to have a happy brunch.

The mirror image theme is continued in the actual chapter in some text which may or may not be another message from Snicket to his sister, since it mentions a ‘previously unknown sibling who was already watching them at that very moment’. It’s got to be another Snicket, right? I don’t think there’s another Baudelaire sibling we’ve never heard about. This message is written in mirror text which is difficult to read because it switches from normal to mirror image mid-way though a line, which means you have to switch the direction you’re reading in.

Another reason for the mirror imagery at the moment is because the place the Baudelaires have found themselves is a weird sort of mirror image. There’s a massive building on the floor with a sign saying ‘HOTEL DENOUEMENT’. So I guess they’ve arrived at the place where the V.F.D. meeting is to take place. There’s also a bunch of shutters on the windows with numbers on them, going from zero to nine. The building isn’t actually on the ground of course, we’re simply seeing a reflection in a large pool of water.

The actual building is slanted so it can be seen clearly in the pool and the writing on the outside of the building is backwards so it appears the right way round in the reflection. Most bizarre of all, for me at least, is that growth of same plants as grow on ponds growing on the outside of the building. Surely it would’ve been easier to just make sure nothing grew on the surface of the pond or on the walls of the building. Just saying.

Back to the matter at hand though. Kit has a whole picnic laid out for them, including napkins with V.B., K.B. and S.B. on them, so she’s obviously really organised. Apparently V.F.D. has a policy that picnics have to travel separately from volunteers so that if one is captured, the other isn’t, because heaven forbid the bad guys should get their hands on a picnic and the volunteers. It doesn’t bear thinking about!

Violet decides to tie her hair up with a ribbon but before she can, Kit has her sit down and and does it for her, telling her how much like her father she is. It’s nice because it’s been so long since the children have had someone behave in a motherly way towards them. They’re soon tucking into their meal and mentioning the ‘Hotel Preludio’ where they stayed before (that would obviously be before the story started).

Kit explains a little about the Hotel Denoument:

For years, it’s been a place where our volunteers can gather to exchange information, discuss plans to defeat our enemies, and return books we’ve borrowed from one another. Before the schism, there were countless places that served such purposes. Bookstores and banks, restaurants and stationery shops, cafes and laundromats, opium dens and geodesic domes – people of nobility and integrity could gather nearly everywhere.

I can’t be the only one who is picturing Sherlock Holmes with the reference to opium dens.

We also learn that Kit was just four when the schism happened. So it’s been going on for quite a while now. She lists a few safe places, one of which we know has been destroyed; the headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains. This was the penultimate safe place. Sunny responds to this with ‘Penulhoo?’ which leads to a little explanation of what penultimate means, hence Hotel Denouement being termed ‘the last safe place’.

And there are bad people out in the world who want to see it destroyed. The children can imagine what will happen if the bad guys are allowed to prevail, even though it’s not really clear any more just who the bad guys are. The Baudelaires are even beginning to wonder if they might be a little bit villainous themselves. Everything is so twisty and confusing!

The children tell Kit about the message they assumed was addressed to Jacques Snicket in the ruins of the headquarters. Sure enough, he was Kit’s brother, and after he died she was so sad she decided to never leave her bed again. Luckily she did and found a new message in her fridge. She also reassures the children that she didn’t believe what Geraldine Julienne wrote in The Daily Punctilio about the Baudelaires murdering Jacques.

Quigley was the one who made contact with Kit to let her know that he’d run into the Baudelaires. Since then Quigley has heard from his brother and sister which is why he can’t be with them today. Things are becoming even more complicated now as it is up to the Baudelaires to decide whether or not the gathering should go ahead. If they decide it’s not safe then the children are responsible for sending word to cancel it.

Clearly the J.S. in the message the Baudelaires found is not the same J.S. that Kit’s brother as she’s got a message which says ‘J.S. has checked in’. It’s signed by someone called Frank. Kit is understandably upset because this means that someone is pretending to be Jacques which isn’t a very nice thing to do. It’s not even clear if the person posing as Jacques is doing it for good or bad reasons. One thing is known for sure, they’re doing it to get the ‘Vessel For Disaccharides’ otherwise known as the mysterious sugar bowl. Hopefully that’s one question that’ll be answered in this book. Though let’s not get our hopes up too much.

The children then have to break the news to Kit that the bad guys have recently come into possession of a sample of Medusoid Mycelium. In return she informs them that they have to observe J.S. over the next couple of says and decide whether or not he is a good guy or a bad guy; if he’s the former then they have to make sure that he gets the sugar bowl, if not then it has to be kept away from it at all costs.

Kit tells them that ‘showing up early is one of the signs of a noble person’. Mr Click will be pleased to hear this, he always likes to show up around half an hour early for anything we go to. Unfortunately for the Baudelaires, some of the bad guys will also show up early in order to fool them into thinking those are noble people. And people will be watching them as well.

When Kit announces that the Baudelaires ‘will become flaneurs’, Sunny says ‘Expound’ which means ‘I’m afraid I don’t know what that word means’. Luckily Kit explains a little more they will be ‘people who quietly observe their surroundings, intruding only when it is absolutely necessary.’ Flaneurs will fit in nicely with the V.F.D. acronym as well. Convenient.

To avoid being spotted they’re disguising themselves as concierges which’ll allow them to go everywhere and see everything. The fly in the ointment is that the person who will be helping them, Frank, has an identical twin brother, known as Ernest, who is on the other side. That’s quite a lot of responsibility to place on three children who have already gone through an awful lot.

Kit doesn’t seem too concerned that she’s putting a lot of responsibility their way. Instead she asks if they have something they can throw into the pond, this will create ripples which will signal their approach to Frank… unless Ernest is watching for them instead. Kit’s got to be off now anyway. She’s got other things to be doing.

‘Us alone?’ says Sunny, asking the question we’re all wondering ‘ Do you really think three children can accomplish all this by themselves?’ Kit is confident though. The Baudelaires have grown up since their parents died. Unbeknownst to them, their parents helped to prepare them while they were still alive, and since the Baudelaire parents died, the children have continued their own educations and become volunteers, almost without realising it. Besides, Kit and Quigley are off to deal with events taking place at sea and in the air. It’s up to the Baudelaires to get to grips with things on the land.

Rather unexpectedly, Kit begins to cry so the Baudelaires move to comfort her. I always feel so awkward when people start to cry. The Baudelaires are clearly more noble than I am because they’ve figured out that the best course of action is to ask what’s wrong and hug her. She’s upset because this is all likely to go wrong. I’m not sure that this is the best way to fill your young charges with confidence about the task you’ve set them, Kit.

She also tells the children that she’ll be watching for their signal, though exactly what that is will be up to them to decide. So how is she to know that it’s a signal from the children? I can see this becoming a big flaw in the plan. She leaves before the children can object.

So it’s up to them to decide how to proceed. I guess they could run away right now, but they seem to know that’s not an option. They don’t have much choice but to change and follow Kit’s instructions. Their disguise includes large dark glasses so no one can see their eyes. This will help to prevent anyone from spotting them as the murderous Baudelaire trio. Hopefully.

Violet then takes the stone from her pocket and tosses it into the pool so this chapter ends as the first began, with ripples crossing the pond and distorting the image of the hotel.

And this story is getting more and more complicated by the second.

Hopefully the next chapter will have less mirror writing. That stuff really slows me down.

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