Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Austere Academy

The Austere Academy
© 2000 Lemony Snicket
221 pages

Mr. Poe warned the children at the beginning of The Miserable Mill that it was becoming increasingly difficult to locate guardians and that if anything were to happen at the mill, they would probably be stuck away in a boarding school while he looked. Seeing as their guardian at the mill was a cruel idiot and that the book ended with people losing legs, they were indeed sent to a boarding school -- the Austere Academy, a place with grey buildings shaped like tombstones (or "thumbs" if you want to look at the bright side of things) and an overall bleak spirit. The teachers are frightfully dull, the vice principal is another cruel idiot, and Count Olaf is the P.E. coach. Rather than living in a warm and cozy dormitory, the kids are sent to live in the "Orphans' Shack", a little shed filled with fungus and crabs with only hay for beds. Naturally, they are upset by the fact that Count Olaf has found them yet again, but this time they decide to make him believe that his disguise has fooled them.

Although much of the book follows the pattern Snicket has set before in terms of plot and narrative style, there are two important variations: firstly, the kids gain friends and allies in the Quagmire triplets, who lost their parents and third triplet in a fire -- just as the Baudelaire orphans did. Secondly, Snicket begins to directly work elements from the master plot into the book in that the Quagmire triplets and Baudelaire orphans learn that Count Olaf has something to do with a mysterious group. Given that this book is roughly the halfway point in the series, it seems appropriate that the overall story would start becoming more important. The book itself was as enjoyable as ever. On a final note, I sometimes think the author is using Sunny's "gibberish" for little injokes. During the series, Sunny's toddlerspeak is understood by her siblings and explained to us by them or Snicket -- for instance, "Queek!" might mean "This turn of events seems improbable to me". In this book I noticed instances in which Sunny's utterances could be read doubly -- perhaps for the amusement of adults who are reading the series. I doubt most children know who Sappho is, for instance, or why she would be appropriate as a response to a girl reading poetry. Then again, perhaps I am reading too much into things.

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