"The World is Quiet Here"

Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography. A sign that there is something going on in this world. Something we were never supposed to know about. Will it come to affect our lives? What will the conspiracy do to us? Who can save us? JC? All these questions are brought to mind by Snicket's latest work.

While A Series of Unfortunate Events describes in detail the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaires, Snicket's life story reveals a mystery far darker then even the later books hint at. Realizing the dangerous position knowing such information places the reader in, Snicket thoughtfully provides a reversible dust jacket (Loney M. Setnick's The Luckiest Kids in the World, Book #1), so that Snicket's enemies won't realize you know about their plots. But, like a sugar bowl, the contents are more important then what is outside.

It begins with an explanation by Daniel Handler, Snicket's legal, literary, and social representative, about the convoluted path the book traveled before its publication. It seems he was sent the manuscript from the publishers, who were given it by the doorman, who had been given it by a mysterious woman who had... and so on, and so forth. The biography itself is directed, the editor claims, at answering thirteen questions:

  1. Why was Mr. Snicket's death published in the newspaper? Who took this?
  2. Why has Mr. Snicket dedicated his life to the Baudelaire case? Is this letter authentic?
  3. Why does Count Olaf have a tattoo of an eye on his ankle? Why has this building been abandoned?
  4. Where are the Quagmire Triplets now? Who is the tallest person in this picture?
  5. Who is Beatrice? Why was this actress replaced after only three performances?
  6. What is V.F.D.? Why did this ship leave three hours ahead of schedule?
  7. Why is there a secret passageway between the Baudelaire mansion and 667 Dark Avenue? What has stained this man's jacket?
  8. Why isn't Mr. Poe as helpful as he ought to be? Why do these children have nothing better to do then sit outside and stare glumly at the camera?
  9. Why is Lemony Snicket on the run? What has happened to the reptiles in Dr. Montgomery's collection?
  10. How many associates does Count Olaf have? What can be hidden in a book?
  11. Are the Baudelaire parents really dead? Why do so many things end in fire?
  12. Is there anything a concerned citizen can do if he or she wants to help the Baudelaires? If there's nothing out there, what was that noise?
  13. Who is Lemony Snicket?
Troubling questions all.

"The World is Quiet Here"

One of the intriguing aspects (a phrase which here means "reasons to keep reading such disheartening books") of Snicket's series is trying to uncover why these events are taking place, and who is to blame, so that the people who are responsible can be punished, or at least watched out for. So, if after reading this book, you see a face that rings a bell, I'm sure that you'll take appropriate action. However, showing villains is not its sole purpose.

Although Snicket may seem sort of, well, crazy, he clearly knows where he is going with all this. You always get the sense in Unfortunate Events that he has looked into his subjects' histories, so he must know life's paths for himself. However, here he dispenses from the occasional off-the-cuff remarks. A shame? Yes. But regardless (note: irregardless isn't a word) the message rings true.

That message is, to put it simply, bad things are happening to him, everyone he has ever known and loved, and he is less than happy about it. But he puts it better. He isn't able to make light (relatively speaking, even) with his own ills, as he can with the Baudelaires. You can feel the sorrow dripping from his pen as he pensively asks, "Why do so many things end in fire?", a simple question that should bring you as close to tears as he was. With other details, such as a disguise handbook or memories of "green... mansions long gone", Snicket longingly recalls a safer time, as if the memory would bring back the days that have long vanished. He reveals information that could lead to his ruin (such as the Sebald Code, where coded words are separated by ten words of filler, and framed by mentions of ringing), because there is little hope remaining-why guard meaningless secrets now? And his memories of Beatrice, touched at on occasion, show that he knows he shall never get over losing her, that life will never have that certain spark

But, in truth, the book isn't about the Baudelaires. It's not about the lamentable Beatrice. It's not even about Snickett himself, no matter what the title may say to the contrary. It's about intrigue, and power. It's about a war over the control over a great and benevolent organization: the VFD, whatever that may be. And about that one, mocking phrase that still runs through my head long after I finally put the book back on the shelf:
"The World is Quiet Here."

"The World is Quiet Here."
A simple statement. What does it mean? I wish I knew. However, this sordid tale answers few of the questions it set out to, while asking far more of its own. Snicket, for whatever reason, is unable or unwilling to speak plainly about what the letters VFD, and the organization, stands for.

"The World is Quiet Here"

It pounds in my brain. What can it be? Is it merely a motto, a mark, or does it go deeper? I don't know. I know it is haunting, nothing more. But Snicket knows.

God willing, some day he'll tell us.

"This book does not appear to be a forgery, which is not to say that the story is true - only that it is accurate. That this book comes from Mr. Snicket is unquestionable, which is not to say that some do not question it."

This is not a volume of the bestselling A Series of Unfortunate Events; rather, it is supposedly an autobiography about its author, Lemony Snicket, but somehow also unauthorized. Now I don't see how an autobiography can be unauthorized, unless, of course, it is. Mr. Snicket's story appears to have been written without his permission, with many errors and very little actual information, but he has gone over it and made his own comments.

First off, the major error is the fact that on the back cover and in the book, an obituary for Mr. Snicket appears. This, of course, is improper, since he's not dead. (He says so in the book.) The book is arranged to have each chapter covering an important question. However, Mr. Snicket judged all the questions "improper" and scratched them out, then replaced the questions with even stranger questions. Many photographs are included as evidence that contributes to nothing and in fact the people in most of the photographs are unidentified. Songs, clippings, articles, letters, and other evidence from the Snicket file (some containing secret coded messages) are arranged unhelpfully throughout the book.

The book carries a warning that reading the book is dangerous, because someone might be watching you and think you are associated somehow with the author. So, Mr. Snicket kindly provides a reversible cover for the book! If you take the book's jacket off and put it on the other way, the book looks like a very happy children's book called "The Luckiest Kids in the World: The Pony Party!" Children about the ages of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are pictured happily riding a pony, and false information is made up for an author and an illustrator to make it look like an entirely authentic yet ridiculously sappy book.

Many disclaimers are placed throughout this book to make it more confusing and less than helpful, and great care is taken to reveal absolutely no information about the Snicket/Baudelaire case. To quote the opening of one chapter: "For various reasons, portions of this chapter have been changed or made up entirely, including this sentence." Even the index is self-referential and makes no attempt to help locate information on any given topic.

This book is hilariously funny. Near the opening, you are treated to such strange sentences as "Today was a very cold and bitter day, as cold and bitter as a cup of hot chocolate, if the cup of hot chocolate had vinegar added to it and were placed in a refrigerator for several hours," or this gem, "The day was as normal as a group of seals with wings riding around on unicycles, assuming that you lived someplace where that was very normal."

I was especially amused, incidentally, by the copyright information, which informs you of all the regular "do not copy" warnings but also insists that you do not eat the book without permission, and it informs you that if there are any pictures or illustrations of you in the book, basically you are probably in danger and very embarrassed, but there isn't a thing you can do about it. Though this is not part of the actual series proper, it is an amusing jaunt through a twisted mind (or set of minds, depending on who's saying so), and is all the more delightfully twisted for not having to stick to a readable plot.

I would not suggest reading this if you have not read some or all of the books from A Series of Unfortunate Events; even die-hards of the series have found it to be unreadable, so it probably would only appeal to those of us with a tweaked sense of humor and a vested interest in the deeper mysteries of the series.

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