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by Lemony Snicket
Harpercollins Juvenile Books, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Apr 2nd 2002

The Vile Village

It is a great relief to read The Vile Village.  There are a number of reasons for this.  It is a relief to know that the Baudelaire orphans manage to locate the Quagmire triplets.  It is also a relief to learn that Violet, Klaus and Sunny manage to escape the clutches of Count Olaf.  But the biggest relief is that author Lemony Snicket manages to avoid the trap of becoming predictable.  In my review of The Ersatz Elevator I mentioned that this was a danger: in each book, our young recently orphaned heroes find themselves under the care of a distant relative who is either incompetent or downright nasty, and the children have to get themselves out of trouble.  It was a winning formula, and there was enough variation to spark readers’ continued interest.  The children worked in a factory, ran endless laps around in large circles, cooked a meal for a theatre troupe, and became knowledgeable about snakes.  They met all sorts of people and made new friends in Duncan and Isadora.  But their mannerisms were getting a little repetitious – Sunny was always making comments that only made sense to her siblings, and Violet was always putting up her hair in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes when she needed to do some inventing.  By the sixth book in the series, there was a sense that the author’s bag of tricks was just about empty. 

But this seventh book breathes new life into the series.  The children start to mature – Sunny begins to put recognizable words together, and Klaus has a miserable thirteenth birthday.  In this story, they are not housed with a relative, because it turns out that no more relatives are willing to take them in.  They become wards of a village instead.  It is a very strange village, where people live their lives by very silly rules, and the punishment for breaking a rule, no matter how minor, is to be burned at the stake.  But the most striking feature of this village is that it is populated by thousands of crows, which partake in a daily migration pattern from one part of the village to another.  What a dark and troubling image enters one’s mind when one imagines these crows filling the sky or settling into a massive tree for the night.  The Vile Village has the most interesting story and gripping ending of any of the books in the series so far – listening to the audiobook, I was literally on the edge of my seat as actor Tim Curry narrated the unfolding events in the unabridged audiobook. 

There are several mysteries that have arisen in this story of the Baudelaires that remain unresolved.  It seems possible that the character of Lemony Snicket may even enter the story at some future point, and we still do not know what the initials V.F.D. stand for.  But the greatest mystery is what caused the Baudelaire’s family home to burn down in the first place, and is there any possibility that the children’s parents are in fact still alive?  Readers will hardly dare to entertain such a thought, but until we know more about the supposed cause of their deaths, we can’t be entirely sure that Violet, Klaus and Sunny are really orphans.

 

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© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.