Book Review: a Series of Unfortunate Events 06: the Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket

This morning’s gym book was a Series of Unfortunate Events 06: the Ersatz Elevator (Young Adult 259 pages) by Lemony Snicket.

“Dear Reader, If you have just picked up this book, then it is not too late to put it back down. Like the previous books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is nothing to be found in these pages but misery, despair, and discomfort, and you still have time to choose something else to read. Within the chapters of this story, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire encounter a darkened staircase, a red herring, some friends in a dire situation, three mysterious initials, a liar with an evil scheme, a secret passageway, and parsley soda. I have sworn to write down these tales of the Baudelaire orphans so the general public will know each terrible thing that has happened to them, but if you decide to read something else instead, you will save yourself from a heapful of horror and woe. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”

One of the points I have commented on for my previous reviews of this series is how much I enjoy the writing style. I like how the structure works and how the sentences flow. I think this is a great book for anyone, not just younger people because of how words are defined not just by the context but by a similar definition. The story, and the series, continues to subtly and not-so-subtly introduce new vocabulary to people who may want new words and to those who may not have a very extensive vocabulary to start with. There are many examples of words being used and also described in context and defined, which I think is a great way to improve a reader’s vocabulary. And it’s written in such a way as to not be condescending, but to also demonstrate the full meaning of the intent of the word when used in very specific context.

One of the two passages I marked from this book was on page 91: “Morning is one of the best times for thinking. When one has just woken up, but hasn’t yet gotten out of bed, it is a perfect time to look up at the ceiling, consider one’s life, and wonder what the future will hold.” In my own personal life, I’ve taken to using the mornings when I don’t have somewhere I have to be to stay in bed and stare at the ceiling and daydream. I didn’t used to do this, but it’s become something of a habit to have those few moments in the mornings to imagine how fantastic my life might be someday in the future and how thankful I am for everything I have right now. So this passage was very fitting to me, even though it then went on to discuss some of the more random parts about the over-arching mystery plot that’s becoming apparent in this series.

The other passage I marked was on page 136, where Violet says to Klaus and Sunny, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” And this was another really great example of how having the courage to do something you know must be done, no matter how frightening you find that event, is extremely brave and how much that bravery and courage can and will change your life. When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny investigate the elevator shaft, they find friends who they believed were lost. They inspired hope on both sides and even though their friends were again lost to them, there now remains the possibility that the Baudelaire orphans and the Quagmire Triplets might meet again in better circumstances at some point in their lives.

It seems to me as though there is one supporting character in all of these books so far that is a fairly nice and decent human being, but ultimately doesn’t help the Baudelaire children very much. In the first book, there was Judge Strauss, who cared for the children and had a wonderful library, but who ultimately couldn’t take the Baudelaires. In the second book, there was Uncle Monty who was a fantastic guardian for the orphans because he had a library as well, but he also encouraged Violet, Klaus, and Sunny’s strengths and treated them like valuable members of his team and family. Until Count Olaf murdered him. Aunt Josephine in the third book attempted to pretend to try, but in the end, she was too afraid of her own fear and wound up getting killed by Count Olaf because she lacked the courage to stand up and do what’s right. In book four, Charles the assistant and one of the Lucky Smell Lumbermill works, Phil, were both kind to the Baudelaire children, but neither of them helped the orphans in any sort of tangible way. At the Austere Academy in book five, both of the teachers meant well for the Baudelaires, but weren’t willing to risk their own careers and lifestyles in order to help the Baudelaires, though the Quagmire Triplets became solid friends and risked their lives to help the Baudelaires. In the sixth book, there’s Jerome, who is an incredibly caring person who wants to buy things the Baudelaire orphans would actually like and get their pinstripe suits tailored correctly, but he also doesn’t like arguing, so he fails the children in a number of small, but crucial, ways.

I think one of the very interesting parts of this book is that each book is hinting at a larger mystery. This mystery has been an interesting factor to my reading of this series since I found out over the weekend that there are more books in this series, namely an Unauthorized Biography, which someone who has read the series and enjoyed it greatly recommended to me that I don’t read that book until after I’ve finished the main series. Naturally, this encouraged me to investigate the library nearby and see if they have that particular book, and they do, which means I shall definitely borrow it as soon as I am finished with the main series.

Oddly, these books fit fairly well with the Readings in the Genre: Mystery Classics course I am currently taking for my Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Some of the thoughts I’m thinking about mystery as a genre are about how mystery seems to have a lot of elements of question. What is the real motive? Who is really involved? How did this stuff happen?

The over-arching mystery here that seems to be growing a little bit more with every book is something along the lines of figuring out who Lemony Snicket is, because he keeps saying that he loved Beatrice more than anything, but in the sixth book, Mrs. Esme Squalor mentions Beatrice and indicates that Esme believes Beatrice stole something from her. Lemony Snicket also seems to be running from a lot of law enforcement personnel and finding himself in some very odd situations, none of which are given much detail throughout the series except in passing. We also find out in this book that the Baudelaire parents were killed in the same fire that killed the third of the Quagmire Triplets. Another interesting development is that there is a secret passageway from the building at 667 Dark Avenue into the Baudelaire’s house that was destroyed in the fire. And the same initials of V.F.D. that the Quagmire Triplets discovered in the last book and attempted to warn the Baudelaire orphans about in this book is starting to be a reoccurring motif.

There’s a lot going on in this book and the books get more complicated the deeper into the series I get. I’m enjoying it greatly and overall, I’d probably rate this book as a solid three on my rating scale because I really like the writing style, the characters are unique, and the message is mostly a positive one (for all that the book is not a happy story). I’m glad that I own this book and will continue with the rest of the books in the series.

Works cited: Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: the Ersatz Elevator. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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