Thursday, 19 March 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Penultimate Peril, Chapter 3

During the last chapter of The Penultimate Peril, Kit Snicket saddled the three Baudelaire children with rather a lot of responsibility before clearing off to go support the V.F.D. cause at sea.

Now the Baudelaires are suited and booted and ready to play the part of Hotel Denouement concierges. Hopefully somewhere along the way they’ll locate the Jacques Snicket imposter and decide whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

What Happens?

The children enter the hotel and immediately notice that there are numbers everywhere but before they can figure out what they mean, a manager who is either Frank of Ernest shows up. He’s very busy and can’t tell them very much before he goes away again, only for another man who is also either Frank or Ernest to show up. It’s not clear which this guy is either. He also goes away, to be replaced with either the first or the second guy, leaving the children none the wiser as to who they are dealing with. They do learn that the hotel is organised using the Dewey Decimal System and that in order to do their job they’re going to have to go their separate ways, something which does not seem very safe, but will allow them to scope more people out.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter image reminds me of being in Wales. We went to St Fagans and the big house there had the row of bells in the servants’ quarters so that they could see where they were wanted. This image shows us three of these bells, numbered 370, 371 and 372. The centre one is clearly ringing. I guess this means that the Baudelaires will get stuck into their work and things are going to be rather busy for them.

There are places where the world is quiet, but the enormous lobby of the Hotel Denouement was not one of them.

We learn that the Baudelaires have no problem gaining access to the hotel, they fit right in with their concierge outfits. The place is full of guests who are hanging around the reception desk, which has ‘101’ written behind it. That’s not the only thing to have a random number on it; the lifts have ‘118’ on the doors, there’s a piano with the number ‘152’ on, the green wooden floors are number ‘123’, a fountain with ‘131’ on, and in one corner of the room is the number ‘176’. All will be explained shortly.

The Baudelaires are slightly overwhelmed until Sunny says ‘Frank first’ reminding them not to worry about finding the imposter right away, instead they need to find the man they signalled to before entering. Before they can get very far the manager shows up. They know he’s the manager, or rather one of them, because he’s got a label on his coat that says ‘MANAGER’. Unfortunately Violet isn’t specific enough when she asks ‘Frank… or Ernest?’ because the man just replies ‘Exactly’.

Frank/Ernest tells them that he doesn’t have time to explain the system at the hotel, so they’ll have to figure it out for themselves. That’ll be tricky. Especially as he apparently wants them to get right to work helping the guests with whatever they need. Then he gets distracted by a bellboy and leaves the Baudelaires alone (next to a bench with the number ‘128’ on it, in case you’re keeping track here).

The children try to work out whether they just met Frank or Ernest. Violet points out that he did use the word ‘volunteer’ and Sunny adds ‘Thursinterest’ meaning ‘He knew that Thursday was important.’ But this doesn’t exactly tell them whether or not he’s a good guy or a bad guy. Perhaps they should have asked ‘are you Frank?’ or used a code phrase like ‘the world is quiet here’ and seen what he said?

Violet does try this approach when a man who looks just like the man they were talking to a minute ago shows up, she says ‘You must be Ernest’. Unfortunately Sunny adds ‘Or Frank’ which allows the man to say ‘Yes’ without clarifying which one he is. Way to mess up, Sunny!

This guy is a little more helpful, which I’m not sure if it’s a sign of being good or bad. He takes them to the concierge desk (number ‘175’) and points out the view of the sea. Once again, the children aren’t sure if he’s speaking in some sort of code or how they should respond. This is going to be tricky, isn’t it?

The helpful manager does have the time to explain how the hotel is organised. Unfortunately a bellgirl shows up with a stack of The Daily Punctilio with a new report from Geraldine Julienne. The headline is ‘BAUDELAIRES RUMOURED TO RETURN TO THE CITY’:

According to information recently discovered by this reporter when opening a cookie, Veronica, Klyde and Susie Baudelaire, the notorious murderers of renowned actor Count Omar, are returning to the city, perhaps to commit more vicious murders or to continue their recent hobby of arson. Citizens are advised to watch for their three bloodthirsty children, and to report them to the authorities if they are spotted. If they are not spotted, citizens are advised to do nothing.

Sound advice.

Ernest/Frank asks the children what they think of this and Violet gives a safe response (‘That’s an interesting question’) which doesn’t lead to anything except Ernest/Frank telling the bellgirl that he’ll show her to Room 168 where the newsstand is. The Baudelaires are still in the dark about how the hotel is organised and they still don’t know which man is Frank and which is Ernest.

Violet thinks that was Ernest but Klaus thinks it was Frank. They children wonder if perhaps he just didn’t recognise them, after all, they’re getting older. Klaus points out that Kit told them they weren’t children any more. Sunny’s response to this is pretty much what I was thinking ‘Nidiculous’ which isn’t a Harry Potter spell but instead means ‘I think I’m still a child’. I think they’re all still children!

While they’re discussing this Frank/Ernest comes back and they ask to be told how the hotel is organised. And it’s simple, just like finding a book in a library, because the hotel is organised just like a library; according to the Dewey Decimal System. Klaus is probably most familiar with libraries and asks where the catalogue can be found but Frank/Ernest says there isn’t one. Instead he’s told that the first floor is for the 100 section (dedicated to philosophy and psychology), the next floor is the 200 section (for religion, featuring ‘a church, a cathedral, a chapel, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, a shrine, a shuffleboard court, and Room 296, which is currently occupied by a somewhat cranky rabbi’.), third floor is for social sciences, the fourth is for language (and the play where foreigners stay), the fifth floor for mathematics and science, sixth floor for technology, and the seventh floor for the arts.

Frank/Ernest even tests the children on what they might expect to find in certain rooms, based on the floor and the room number. The children are also told that they don’t have a bed or anything like that. They’re expected to nap behind the desk and the bell can be their alarm clock. That sounds like an Olaf-y thing to say so I can’t help but suspect that they’re dealing with Ernest right now.

Apart from the fact that he goes on to say:

“Your positions as concierges,” he said in his unfathomable tone, “are excellent opportunities for your to quietly observe your surroundings. People tend to treat the hotel staff as if they are invisible, so you will have the chance to see and hear quite a lot of interesting things. However, you should remember that you will also have many opportunities to be observed. Do I make myself clear?”

Which screams Frank.

And then they’re taken to the desk, the back of which is covered with tiny bells next to numbers. When the bell rings it means that the number of the room it is beside wants their attention. There’s also an unmarked bell which is linked up to the ‘rooftop bathing salon’.

As there are currently three bells ringing the Baudelaires are going to have to split up, which is never a good thing. Frank/Ernest then dismisses them quite rudely, which has me back to thinking he’s Ernest after all. Though perhaps he’s a good guy who just happens to be kind of rude, though that doesn’t seem like the sort of quality the volunteers usually look for in people. I’m so confused!

Violet organises who will go where and Klaus points out that at least by separating they’ll be able to see three times as much stuff going on in the hotel. All the same, Sunny says ‘Unsafe’ which means ‘I’d rather not find the imposter if I’m all by myself.’ Klaus tries to reassure his sister by pointing out that they’re really just in a large library, though Violet says those fatal words ‘And what’s the worst thing that can happen in a library?’ Well, just going by their own experience, people can get poisoned, the place can burn down, dangerous plots can be hatched. Libraries aren’t always safe places, kids!

As the children go their separate ways they remember some of the other places that they have been and about all the bad things that happened there, usually involving Olaf in some way. In this new place, a library (of sorts) they realise that there is a very bad thing that can happen when they see a little sign on the wall which reads ‘IN CASE OF FIRE’. I’ve got a funny feeling they might be needing that later.

And just like that they become three children, alone, instead of a trio.

Bad things will happen.

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