This is my first Daniel Handler (or Lemony Snicket) book. Since this book is adult oriented – seriously not a kid’s book – and I have been wanting to read some of his work I thought this would be a good place to begin. It had praise from Neil Gaiman on the cover! And I’m not entirely sure why.
This novel tells the separate tales of Phil Needle’s struggle to be recognized in the world of radio (something that basically gets pushed to the side and forgotten) and Gwen’s (his daughter) need to rebel and identify herself as her own person. Why Phil’s parts even needed to be in the book or to be as numerous as they were was beyond me.
The cover makes it look like it’ll be full of whimsy but the cover and maybe some of the prose is where that ends. This is flat out a story of rebellion on all character’s accounts. Not that it should be a bad thing. And maybe it’s not but, I don’t know, the characters were compelling though the story wasn’t. Handler writes these brilliant characters that you are instantly attached to but then it feels like they were just dragged through the mud and not left to live the lives that could have. The narrator is annoying in this book constantly serving to remind you that you might be reading this book long in the future though the story that is taking place is current.
And you are supposed to suspend your disbelief, in this world of reality, to what these characters choose to do. These kids are essentially sociopaths and manage to wrangle others into their schemes. It just didn’t ring true with my idea of something that could happen. The most believable part was that Gwen would go along with anything Amber did because she was in love with her.
Though I won’t really spoil anything here, if you want to know nothing skip ahead to the next paragraph. I wasn’t expecting death in this book. The direction that it took was so shocking and really the most unbelievable part of the book. It wasn’t necessary. The characters didn’t learn anything from it. I really don’t know. I wasn’t writing these characters so they weren’t speaking to me but nothing in there (other than the rebel Amber) showed me that these characters could do what they did.
The ending (the last 40 pages and the best part) was the only part that felt rushed. The rest of it, particularly the parts that included Phil (as stated above), felt long winded. There was a nice little twist in there and ended up being structured like a classic comedy (which often includes tragedy). That twist made me want to go all the way back to the beginning and connect those dots even though I can’t see myself reading this book again.
On the whole I feel like Handler had an idea for this book and didn’t know where to go with it. There are definitely likable parts and there is something to be said about Handler’s prose but it just wasn’t enough. There were times when Handler would go about describing something in a round about way and instead of coming off clever it would instead be confusing. I found myself reading and re-reading passages just to understand what the intent was. I never felt compelled to keep turning pages even toward the end when naturally you would want to know how something ends.