Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Ersatz Elevator

The Ersatz Elevator
© 2001 Lemony Snicket
259 pages

"I know what you mean," Klaus said. "If someone had asked me, that day at the beach, if I ever thought we'd be climbing up and down an empty elevator in an attempt to rescue a pair of triplets, I would have said never in a million years. And now we're doing it for the fifth time in twenty-four hours. What happened to us? What led us to this awful place we're staring at now?"
"Misfortune," Violet said quietly.
"A terrible fire," Klaus said.
"Olaf," Sunny said decisively [...].

The sixth book in Lemony Snicket's series of unfortunate events takes the Baudelaire orphans back to where it all began -- in more ways than one. The orphans are adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Squalor, who live in a gigantic penthouse apartment. True to the pattern developed in previous books, the Squalors like all adults are useless when not cruel. Jerome Squalor is actually quite nice -- it's his wife who's the most problematic. She only cares about what's "In" and "Out" and is not adverse to having the building's elevator removed if elevators fall out of fashion -- which is what has happened to it at book's beginning, forcing the children to walk either "forty-eight or eighty-four" flights of stairs to get home. Although life in the Squalor apartment is more comfortable than their previous living conditions -- working in a mill or living in a shack, for instance -- they cannot enjoy properly given the fact that their friends and allies in the struggle against Olaf, the Quagmire triplets, have been kidnapped by Count Olaf. If this were not enough, Olaf soon shows up, necessitating that the orphans contrive a plan against him.

Building on book five, bits of the series' master story emerge here. For the first time, the central characters are not the only thing that tie the books together: what with the kidnapping of the Quagmire triplets and the emergence of a mysterious organization called "VFD". The book maintains its characteristic narration -- which reveals more and more of Lemony Snicket: he appears to be fighting against Olaf himself and is on the run, leaving the manuscripts that become the books in hiding places for his compatriots to find. The Ersatz Elevator is as ever enjoyable.

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