Sunday, October 01, 2006

31. The Penultimate Peril

by Lemony Snicket

The End is near! I waited quite some time to read this book in order to consume the last two in rapid succession, so huzzah, I say! Huzzah!

After being whisked away by Kit Snicket in a taxi cab at the end of Book the Eleventh, The Penultimate Peril finds the Baudelaire orphans eating brunch at the foot of the Hotel Denouement. The Baudelaires’ job in this book is to act as concierges and flaneurs, disguising themselves as hotel employees while observing all that’s going on around them. Something big is going down on Thursday and the siblings have to make sure the good side is getting what they need while the bad side is defeated. Or something of that nature because, as usual, no one is telling the siblings what exactly they should be looking for or who they can trust. All they know is that one of the two twin managers, Frank, is a volunteer while the other twin, Ernest, is a villain. Since neither Frank nor Ernest reveal themselves to the siblings, who do they have left to trust?

Once inside the hotel things start to get interesting. The siblings split up in order to attend to their concierge duties and each one runs into characters from their recent past. Violet finds Esme Squalor and Carmelita Spats sunbathing on the roof, Esme wearing a bikini of lettuce leaves (where in the world did this come from?) and Vision Furthering Devices and Carmelita asking for a harpoon gun. Not knowing what the harpoon gun is for or whether the manager who aids her is Frank or Ernest, Violet brings the despicable girl the gun, feeling even more like her efforts are going to waste. Klaus is sent to room 674 where Charles and Sir, from the Lucky Smells Lumberyard, need to be shown to a sauna, not because Sir likes the steam, but because he likes the smell of hot wood. (“Hot wood” proclivities aside, does anyone else think Charles and Sir are together? Their relationship is just dysfunctional enough to be romantic in nature.) The manager, either Frank or Ernest, also asks Klaus to hang a large piece of flypaper out of the room’s window. The hotel is having a bird problem and any falling birds will be caught on the paper. Sunny finds herself at the mercy of Vice Principal Nero from Prufrock Preparatory School. She must take him and Mr. Remora and Mrs. Bass to the Indian restaurant down the hall and in the process runs into one of the managers who has news from J.S. Since J.S. once referred to the now deceased Jacques Snicket, one can’t help but wonder to whom the mysterious initials belong.

And so it continues, with all of the characters from past books making an appearance, at least in name if not in person. Hector and the Quagmire twins should be landing their hot balloon on the roof; the ambidextrous Kevin, the contortionist Colette, and the humpbacked Hugo from Caligari Carnival are back; Justice Strauss and Jerome Squalor reappear as the owners of those important initials; and, of course, Count Olaf tries once again to get his hands on the orphans so he can claim their fortune. We still don’t know what VFD is, but we do learn about the aforementioned Vision Furthering Devices, as well as Vernacularly Fastened Doors. If you recall from the other books, we’ve gotten some pretty interesting names for VFD: Village of Fowl Devotees, Volunteers Fighting Disease, the Valley of Four Drafts, and, of course, Very Fresh Dill. But none of them are as interesting as the latest explication – Vessel for Disaccharides. In layman’s terms, the sugar bowl. Not that we know why the sugar bowl is so important or even find that out in this book, but it was nice feeling like we were finally getting to the bottom of something.

We don’t yet know how Lemony himself figures in the story and I’ll be sorely disappointed if he leaves himself out of the finale. More than anything I want to know how the third Snicket sibling came to chronicle the Baudelaires’ story and what’s happened to him since. (If you pay attention to the pattern of groups of three siblings – the Snickets, the Quagmires, and the Baudelaires themselves – you’ll figure out how each of the Baudelaires were able to speak to one of the managers at the same time.) Things take a decidedly darker tone in this book so Snicket has left us unsure as to the Baudelaires’ fate. The siblings’ decisions are more ambiguous than ever and two characters die as a result of their actions. They go on trial and are unable to claim themselves wholly innocent and in the process of escaping from the hotel they also help Count Olaf escape. Of course, if Olaf had met his end in this book that wouldn’t have made for a very satisfying ending, but I have to be honest and say I have no idea what that ending is going to be. Snicket has been fairly formulaic in all of his books, even if the formula he’s following is his own, but bringing back all of these characters and having the Baudelaires create nearly as much destruction as they’ve tried to prevent was a departure which leaves the final installment in this series a complete unknown. I would say time will tell, but it’s only two weeks until The End comes out and it’s only two more weeks until we know who Lemony Snicket is, what VFD stands for, and what the Baudelaires’ fate turns out to be. It’ll be a long two weeks, for sure.


Anonymous John Keller said...

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5:37 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

The organization sounds interesting, but I'm unsure as to how I, as a book blogger, would fit in. Although I certainly love to get free books, I have the means to pay for them so I would feel wrong taking away from
schools or people that need your services much more than I do. Can you give me a little bit more of an
idea as why you're reaching out to bloggers?

2:19 PM  

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