Mr Handler operating under his own name, here, rather than his Snicket nom de plume. As such, this is a novel for adults, rather than children.
Though in fact, is it even a novel at all? It is in fact more of series of short stories, or even vignettes. They are linked, or at least related to each other, but it’s not always obvious how.
The same characters recur throughout, though in different combinations. Or at least, the same character names. It’s not at all clear that, where a name recurs, it is meant to be the same person. Indeed, the author says as much in his blurb.
The main link between them all is that they are all in some way or another about love. In fact, a better title might be something like, ‘A Series of Tales About Love’, or even, ‘A Series of Loving Events’. The title comes from Handler’s assertion that, essentially, “it’s not what we do, it’s how we do it”, and the fact that each of the stories (or chapters) has an adverbal title: ‘Particularly’, ‘Briefly’, ‘Not Particularly’, and so on.
It all gets a bit meta in the middle, where Handler breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly.
And it has a soundtrack album, in two senses: throughout the book, there are references to bands and songs, so you could construct a suitable playlist from that. But given Handler’s alternative career as a musician and member of The Magnetic Fields, the album to play while reading it is undoubtedly their 69 Love Songs. You’ll find many themes in common and overlap between book and album.
All in all it’s thoroughly enjoyable, but doesn’t really go anywhere - it doesn’t have a plot, after all - and is kind of inconclusive.
This is actually thirteen books, not just one. I've been reading it with my son over a period of several months. He, of course, had already read it, but we like reading together, and I was keen to know the rest of the story, after seeing the film (which is based on the events of the first three books).
Anyway, we finally got to the end, and, while I enjoyed it, I think that Mr Snicket has the not uncommon problem of difficulty with endings.
Or maybe not: he left lots (and lots, and lots) of loose ends flying. But that might be deliberate, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But he seeds so many clues and events throughout the first twelve books that, starting the thirteenth, you wonder how he’s going to bring them all together, and then - he just doesn’t.
Part of the narrative concerns the fact that stories don’t really have starts and finishes, and that a relatively inconsequential moment in your life could be the start or end of someone else’s story, and so on. All very well, but I get the sense that he rather tacked that on to excuse the lack of an ending.
That said, it’s a great story if you’re reading to kids who love language (or if you’re reading it yourself and do); though some, I’m sure, would get annoyed with his repeated “… which is a phrase which here means…” riff, or some of his other running gags. Me, I loved it.
Most importantly, the three Baudelaire orphans are engaging characters: smart, kind, wise (and noble enough) children, caught up in a world of sadness and madness, where almost all the adults who aren’t out to get them are too stupid to help them.
Adults don’t come out of A Series of Unfortunate Events at all well, in fact. Those that aren’t stupid are evil. Those that are neither tend to end up dead, or disappeared. And everyone gets betrayed, and their hearts broken.
Am I telling too much, here? Probably not: Lemony warns us, right from the blurb on The Bad Beginning: if you’re looking for a happy tale, there are plenty of others on the shelves.
While Mr Snicket tries to discourage reading these terrible books at every turn, though, they come highly recommended by me.