Book Review: a Series of Unfortunate Events 09: the Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket

This morning’s gym book was a Series of Unfortunate Events 09: the Carnivorous Carnival (Young Adult 286 pages) by Lemony Snicket.

“Dear Reader, The word ‘carnivorous,’ which appears in the title of this book, means ‘meat-eating,’ and once you have read such a bloodthirsty word, there is no reason to read any further. This carnivorous volume contains such a distressing story that consuming any of its contents would be far more stomach-turning than even the most imbalanced meal. To avoid causing discomfort, it would be best if I didn’t mention any of the unnerving ingredients of this story, particularly a confusing map, an ambidextrous person, an unruly crowd, a wooden plank, and Chabo the Wolf Baby. Sadly for me, my time is filled with researching and recording the displeasing and disenchanting lives of the Baudelaire orphans. But your time might be better filled with something more palatable, such as eating your vegetables, or feeding them to someone else. With all due respect, Lemony Snicket.”

The end of a Series of Unfortunate Events: the Hostile Hospital ended with Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire going from the frying pan into the fire. At the end of the Hostile Hospital, the Baudelaire orphans were thought to be not only murderers but now responsible for the destruction of the records library in the hospital. They’d started taking more questionable actions, such as stealing Hal’s keys, biting him, and setting fire to the records room. They’d used disguises to attempt to save Violet from being decapitated by Count Olaf’s henchmen, and run from the shopkeeper in the Last Chance General Store. All of the things they did in the last book that may or may not have been morally sound decisions are all ones which they feel badly for.

This book has a very different feel and a very different tone than its predecessors. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny finally reach their breaking point in this book where it’s obvious that they are more willing to take risks and to keep moving forward. I think it seems to me as though they’ve stopped being afraid or they’ve given up hope that things truly will get resolved in any sort of positive way. They’re worried because they seem to be doing more and more shady things and finding ways to justify those shady things and that they’re getting more comfortable doing things that they don’t believe is morally correct because they can’t see any other alternative.

I’m not sure how I, as a reader, feel about some of these events. When the Baudelaire orphans first encounter Madame Lulu, she is cruel and inconsiderate. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny get a job with the carnival as freaks because they pretend to be a two-headed person and a part man/part wolf cub. Count Olaf’s troupe and Madame Lulu get their enjoyment by making fun of people who are different than themselves, and they laugh as Violet and Klaus, disguised as Beverly and Elliot, attempt to eat corn on the cob. The other members of Count Olaf’s troupe all also have physical deformities, such as the hook-handed man, the man with the large nose, the two women with powdered faces, and the person who could be either a man or a woman. In the House of Freaks, the Baudelaires are introduced to Hugo the hunchback, Colette the contortionist, and Kevin who is ambidextrous. The book addresses periodically what might motivate people who could be good to do things that are decidedly wrong, and focuses on how people treat each other. The whole point of the House of Freaks for the carnival is to put people on display and encourage others to laugh at them, which left me feeling extremely uneasy because of the accurate reflection of real life portrayed in this book. In real life, people are bullied for the most ridiculous reasons and none of it makes sense to me because I am of the opinion that we should try and be as kind as possible to those around us and the mob mentality of this book didn’t show anyone attempting to be decent human beings. While Violet, Klaus, and Sunny do not participate in saying hurtful things to the rest of those who are made fun of, there are multiple times throughout the book when it’s made obvious that mocking others is ridiculous.

Madame Lulu/Olivia is a character who knows that she is helping villains and it’s not something that she ever thought she would be doing, but she likes giving people what they want. While she appears to be kind towards the Baudelaire children when their disguises are discovered, she is also weak in the sense that nothing she does is truly beneficial to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. She spoke to the Baudelaires about being a noble person again, but in the end, she betrays their trust and ultimately gets eaten by hungry lions for not having the ability to stand up to Count Olaf. This is where I started getting a little uncomfortable as a reader because I’m not sure I was sad or disappointed that she was eaten. And at this point in the story, with all the terrible things Count Olaf has done, I’m not sure what the desired end state for him is, either. I don’t know that I would feel as though justice would be served if he is simply captured and imprisoned because I feel as though he would find some way to weasel out of it. I’m not comfortable with wishing an accident on him because with accidents, you don’t usually see the body, which means he’s likely to survive the accident and continue to cause death and destruction to random people and to the Baudelaire orphans specifically. And I very much don’t want the Baudelaire orphans to actually kill him, but these books have demonstrated very clearly that there are no adults with spines anywhere to be found, and those adults who have had spines wind up getting killed. Actually, everyone winds up getting killed. Maybe the underlying morale of this series is that you’re going to die anyway, so maybe you should die doing something to help someone else.

This is also the first book in the series where there wasn’t a “safe for now” end to the story. At the end of this book, the Baudelaire orphans are now in greater danger than they were at the beginning of this book and it’s not a very safe place. Not that the trunk of Count Olaf’s car was a very safe place for the end of the last book, but it sort of was. This time, not so much.

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 Carnivorous Carnival. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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