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Review

 

The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)

The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
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Book Name: The Wide Window
Author: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Publisher(s): HarperCollins
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: September 4, 2007 (US) October 13, 2009 (UK)

Why am I reviewing this book for a fantasy site? Because it’s fantasy, Jim, but not as you know it.

Let me go back a few steps: I’m the father of an inquisitive six year old who is beginning to discover the joy of reading, and, importantly, of self-directed reading. We’ve done some Dahl and some Blyton, The Neverending Story, plus a stack of those serialised books you find in school libraries about kids just living their lives. We read a couple of chapters a night and then, if the kid wants to stay up, further reading is allowed.

For a little while now, we’ve been looking for something, anything, that the kid will just jump into, which is a big ask in today’s environment of user-generated content and take-it-wherever-you-go media devices. So when on a recent holiday, we found a stack of appropriate books in a second hand bookshop, we bought up big. A few of the books were consumed while on holiday, and a few more when we got home, until there was only one book left in the pile: The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket.

I don’t know what stopped the kid’s hand from reaching for the book. Perhaps the old style cover made it look like one of the boring books from mum and dad’s collection, or maybe it was the slightly grim illustration on the cover. Now that we’ve finished the book; with the kid absolutely loving it, I think the wariness came from a sense of mystery created by both the illustration and the cover. Yet this wariness evaporated by the end of the first page or, at the very least, was transformed into a reader’s curiosity strong enough to last beyond even the end of the book.

For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Lemony Snicket is the biographer of the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, whose parents died in a tragic fire. But there is more here than meets the eye because the children’s mother, Beatrice Baudelaire was once engaged to Lemony Snicket, and together they were members of the enigmatic Volunteer Fire Department. The V.F.D., as it is called, taught Lemony many esoteric and detective-like skills and is referred to within the book’s pages with the kind of secrecy usually reserved for the Freemasons.

The Wide Window is Book 3 of the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, written by Daniel Handler but attributed to Lemony. It can be read as a standalone book, or an introduction of others in the Unfortunate Event series without any real loss of a sense of the story.

Daniel introduces young readers to some very interesting concepts: shadowy organisations with unknowable reaches and goals; ruses, disguises and cunning plans; and saving-the-day actions, inventions and leaps of faith to counter the villainous plans of the evil Count Olaf, whose desire for the Baudelaire family fortune is only the start of his ambition. Encountering each one of these in the story lays a good foundation for the further reading of fantasy later in life. Also important for anyone looking to introduce their kid to the world of fantasy is the notion that it’s perfectly all right for a book to leave some questions unanswered.

Ever since the deaths of their parents, the Baudelaire children have been pushed from pillar to post and in The Wide Window, we catch up with Violet, Klaus and Sunny as they are about to take up residence with a distant relative, Aunt Josephine Anwhistle. They come to be there after an unfortunate event meant they had to move on from another relative, Dr Monotgomery. Aunt Josephine quickly proves herself to be one of those adults the Baudelaire children must endure rather than thrive under, and so the siblings set about looking after their own needs and interests in whatever way they can. Of course, the children’s foe, Count Olaf, is soon on the scene and is attempting to bring the children under his control.

The siblings must save their Aunt, defy the Count and look after each other, using only their wiles and their strong family connection. They must do this in spite of the adults around them, who seem intent on falling for the Count’s ruses.

Daniel Handler does a great job. The story has pace and balances well the need to drip feed information about the larger plot with the ins and outs of the matters at hand within The Wide Window. The language used is accessible but challenging and so while the kid was often heard to ask “what does this mean”, it usually led to an interesting conversation.

The children encounter man-eating creatures, they need to learn to create time, a genderless almost-monster must be dealt with, and the interests of the Baudelaire children, as well as the V.F.D., need to be looked after; all amidst an almost Lovecraftian setting of scholarly detectives and investigators.

Between fairy tales and young adult fantasy, it can be difficult to find stories that treat readers to a rollercoaster of wonder and imagination. Handler deftly manages to treat his reader to a feast while also stimulating the appetite for an even larger meal. In final testament to the strength of The Wide Window, the kid is on the lookout for previous and further instalments of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)
The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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4 Comments

  1. Rick says:

    This definitely came out loooooong before 2007…

  2. Bibliotropic says:

    If your kid enjoyed that one, then he’ll probably like the rest of the series, considering each book follows the same formula and has pretty much the same tone throughout. Grim entertainment for kits at its best!

  3. Jen says:

    If your kid likes the Series of Unfortunate Events then he’ll probably like the newer series by Lemony Snicket “All the Wrong Questions”. I read the first book “Who could that be at this hour” earlier this year. It has a similar formula as well, but rather than tell the story of the Baudelaires it tells tells of the childhood of Lemony himself. It’s just as mysterious as SoUE, but with it’s own villains, allies, and less than clever adults. 🙂 It’s a good read, one I know i’d have jumped on as a child, not that I’m letting age stop me now.

    • Hi Jen, as well as Bibliotropic above,

      Thanks for the recommendations. With Annual Gift Man due for a visit round our way, I’ll be on the look out for more SoUE and Lemony books in general.

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