“There was a town, and there was a girl, and there was a theft.
I was living in the town, and I was hired to investigate the theft, and I thought the girl had nothing to do with it.
I was almost thirteen and I was wrong.
I was wrong about all of it.”
On a whim, I downloaded the audio book, Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket. I’ve never read Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, so I wondered if this prequel would interest me at all. By the time I was one chapter into the audio book, I was in love with the reader, the story, the characters, the clever writing style, the dry humor: in love with all of it.
Who Could That Be At This Hour? is book one of four in Lemony Snicket’s new autobiographical series, All The Wrong Questions. Since I’ve never read the thirteen Unfortunate Events books, I don’t know as much about the adult Snicket as most readers of Who Could That Be At This Hour? (hereafter Book 1). As true Snicket fans will tell you (and as my Snicket-fan-sister told me), Lemony Snicket is, of course, not the real name of the real author of the Snicket books. The real life author’s name is Daniel Handler. Apparently, Handler didn’t just use Lemony Snicket as a pen name – he incorporated him as a character into the books themselves. As the Unfortunate Events series went on, Snicket became more and more of an active character in the story, dropping hints about his past as he recounted his tale, and always intriguing readers with his elusive personality. Snicket fans everywhere rejoiced when Book 1 hit the shelves, and they were finally presented with a story entirely devoted to the mysterious character.
[Just to make things easier, I will refer to Snicket as the author of the book for the remainder of this review.]
Seeing as I live in the same house with one of these rejoicing-Snicket-fans, I have heard a lot about Book 1 over the past few months. I never really considered reading it, though, due to the fact that I know so little about A Series of Unfortunate Events. Today, however, (as I said before) I decided to give it a shot. And again, as I said before, I fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I can’t give you even a short synopsis of Book 1 without giving away too much of the story line. Suffice to say that it’s engaging and very interesting.
Snicket’s writing style is fantastic. It’s witty, clever, and full of dry humor that has me laughing out loud. At the same time, his story-telling mastery enables him to write scenes that are poignant, packed with depth and which stop me in my tracks. He keeps me so entertained with his light-hearted spirit, that when he does throw in a line or a character with more depth/sorrow, it really sticks out. And speaking of sorrow, I haven’t been able to find any of the semi-sinister undertone that runs through the half-comical, half-creepy Series of Unfortunate Events. (I’m not at all knocking the Series of Unfortunate Events – I merely am pointing out that it is a bit darker than All The Wrong Questions.) Book 1 seems to be a more appropriate story for children than Snicket’s previous series. At the same time, I’m not sure that children would really be able to appreciate all of the dry humor and literary references packed into the story. It seems to me that Book 1 is one of those books that is supposedly aimed toward children, yet written in a way that only adults can fully appreciate.
To give you a taste for Snicket’s brilliant writing style, here are a couple of my favorite lines from Book 1:
“She stood and ran quickly up the spiral staircase, her shoes making the sort of racket that might give your mother a headache, if you have that sort of mother.”
“My chaperone looked at me like I should aha! back, but all I could manage was a quiet ‘ah.’ I made a note to ha later.”
“The children of this world and the adults of this world are in entirely separate boats and only drift near each other when we need a ride form someone or when someone needs us to wash our hands.”
Book 1 is refreshingly clean. No bad words, no violence, nothing inappropriate (save for one person making a rude gesture – nothing a little white-out can’t handle). There are a few rather intense scenes, involving life-threatening situations and nasty bad guys, but nothing that I would call genuinely scary or dark. Like when I read through The Mysterious Benedict Society series earlier this year, I am always thrilled to find a modern children’s book that is wholesome and not filled with rebellion and disrespect. The 12-year-old Lemony Snicket is a smart, observant, likable boy. Every now and then he’ll get fed up with his chaperone and give her a sarcastic retort, but for the most part he’s quite a decent old chap. I only hope that the other three books remain this clean.
Liam Aiken, the teenage narrator, does a fantastic job with the audio version of Book 1. His calm, collected way of reading completely fits Lemony’s character and brings him to life. All of his voices for the various characters are absolutely perfect, and he just nails all of the dry humor. I actually wonder how much of my enjoyment of the story came from the story itself, and how much enjoyment came from Aiken’s way of reading the story…. In any case, if you’re going to read this book, then I can’t recommend the audio version enough!
In short, Who Could That Be At This Hour? is a fun, entertaining book with an engaging story line full of memorable characters and plenty of laughs. After reading several deep (but good) books in a row, I found it to be a light and refreshing read. If you wander through the shelves of your local book store, asking yourself, “Why don’t they write good books any more?” then you have not asked the wrong question at all. You’ve asked just the right question, and the right answer is: All The Wrong Questions.