Magazine article The Spectator

Will Count Olaf Prevail?

Magazine article The Spectator

Will Count Olaf Prevail?

Article excerpt

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS : BOOK THE THIRTEENTH : THE END by Lemony Snicket Egmont, £6.99, pp. 368, ISBN 10405226730 . £5.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

This, in my experience, has been completely unprecedented, and I doubt will ever happen again: three members of the same family reading the same book at the same time.

We had to read the book in shifts: it was like waiting on the docks to hear the plight of Little Nell, or gathering together to read samizdat in the former Soviet Union.

Even more extraordinary, having read this book I voluntarily went back and read all of the others in the series. Thirteen books by the same author: I've read more Lemony Snickets than I've read Iris Murdochs.

For the uninitiated, among whom I proudly counted myself until the past few weeks, The End is the 13th and final instalment in a series of novels by the American author Daniel Handler, writing under the nom de plume Lemony Snicket. He is the American J. K. Rowling.

Snicket's series tells the story of the Baudelaires, three 'clever and reasonably attractive orphans', Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, and their diabolical guardian, Count Olaf. Each book is a compendium of rackety adventures in which the children battle against a secretive and shady organisation, the VFD, and attempt to evade and outwit Olaf, thus preventing him from getting his hands on the considerable fortune bequeathed to them by their parents.

At the beginning of The End, the children and Olaf have escaped -- in a boat -- from a fire at the Hotel Denouement (this would take quite some explaining, so you might be better off just reading Book the Twelfth, The Penultimate Peril, except that in order to understand that you'd need to have read Book the Eleventh, and so on and so forth). A storm soon rips apart the boat and the children find themselves shipwrecked on a mysterious island, where the usual mad sort of adventures take place.

The children are befriended by a young girl called Friday; they come into conflict with the island's self-appointed leader, called Ishmael ('Call me Ish, ' he says, drolly); they hook up with a whole host of other minor and eccentric characters, including Finn, Omeros, Calypso, Marlow, Kurtz and Rabbi Bligh; they tangle, as per usual, with Count Olaf; and they make plans to escape from the island. I shan't give away the end of The End except to say that it's not really an end at all but rather a new beginning. …

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