Lemony Snicket for Grown-ups

Adverbs by Daniel Handler

This author is best known as the writer of the fun Lemony Snicket series of novels for children.  I’ve read the first Lemony Snicket novel, and heard the audiobook narrated by Tim Curry, (I just love his voice!) and one day intend to read the rest of the series.  The film, which combines the first three novels is immensely stylish and is a favourite at Gaskell Towers too.  In these books, Handler has a fabulous and quirky narrative style, telling the story of the three Baudelaire orphans who have a series of unfortunate events happen to them.

So after that preamble, you may be interested to hear that Handler has written some adult novels under his own name.  You would also expect some off-beat humour and full-on quirkiness and Adverbs doesn’t disappoint.

The novel is really a series of short stories, mostly linked, sharing characters and a timeline.  Each chapter is titled with an adverb, which occurs physically in the text or in character in that story, including: obviously, particularly, briefly, naturally and symbolically to name a few.  Do you know the parlour game Adverbs?  You have to act in the style of a particular adverb for the others to work out – well this book is a bit like that!

One of my favourite characters, Helena first crops up in the story Particularly in which she ends up working for her husband’s ex, teaching in a school …

She and her husband needed to buy things pretty much on a regular basis. This teaching job did not pay a lot of money, because, let’s face it, nobody gives a flying fuck about education, but it was a temporary position. Helena had been told it would last until the money ran out. From Helena’s experience, she would say the money was going to run out in about nine days.
‘It’s a temporary position, like I told you,’ said Andrea,  who had said no such thing. ‘Pretty much what happens is, you facilitate the creative expression part. You’re a creative expression facilitator. Get it?’
Andrea was an ex-girlfriend of Helena’s husband, so she said ‘Get it?’ like one might say, ‘The same man has seen us both naked, and prefers you, bitch!’
‘Of course I get it,’ Helena said, but she sighed.Things like this had not happened to her in England. She could not explain the difference, perhaps it was because there wasn’t one. Certainly England had castles, but Helena had not lived in them, although memories of her British life had become more and more glamorous the longer she hung out at hideous places like this.

There’s a rich cast of characters who fall in and out of love, requited and unrequited, from a chivalric teenage crush to being immediately smitten with love at first sight. There are all kinds of  love too, from full-on romantic to platonic, and ghostly too.

Despite being called Adverbs, Handler doesn’t use many of them – I gather that using too many adverbs is considered bad form for proper authors – Elmore Leonard says, ‘Using adverbs is a mortal sin’ in his slim tome 10 Rules of Writing.

Adverbs is also a strange book that happens to be full of magpies literally – it is obsessed with these colourful birds and their kleptomaniac character they crop up throughout as a kind of birdy glue – and dangle sentences at you like wonderful shiny jewels:

Love can smack you like a seagull, and pour all over your feet like junk mail.

How fabulous is that!  Like all proper good metafiction, Handler partially narrates the story, and crops up as himself too. His narration is similarly knowing as that of his alter-ego Lemony Snicket, intimating that he knows what will really happen and he’s not letting on.  As he is so much an integral part of the novel perhaps, the female characters tend to dominate the rest, but they’re all interesting so that’s not a bad thing.

It is also full of advice on life in general:

You have to be careful when you say what you like two weeks before your birthday. You say birds you’ll get birds. You say the new album by the Prowlers and you better not buy it yourself because it’ll be waiting for you in the bag from Zodiac records…

There was much I really liked about this book.  At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, it was a little like a box of chocolates – I liked some stories and characters far more than others.  However, the quirk factor was right for me, and the literary tricksiness was right up my street, so I will look out for more by this interesting chap.  (8/10)

* * * * *

I bought this book.  To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events No.1)
The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events) Audiobook read by Tim Curry
Lemony Snicket’s: A Series Of Unfortunate Events[DVD] [2004]
10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard


15 thoughts on “Lemony Snicket for Grown-ups

  1. One of the first books I wrote about when I first started blogging was another Daniel Handler novel that was aimed at adults called The Basic Eight. It was deliciously macabre and after finishing it, I picked up Adverbs… but haven’t read it yet! Your review has certainly convinced me it has languished on my shelves for far too long. 2011 shall be its year!

  2. I think I’ve only read the first Lemony Snickett and although it is a children’s boo,k I loved the whole macabre setting of the tale and wish I had read the rest. Instead I watched the movie which I rather liked. So Adverbs definitely interests me.

    • I loved the film, and really want to read more of the books. He definitely has a style all of his own which is in this book too.

  3. I discovered the Lemony Snicket books shortly after Book 6 was published, I think, and I inhaled them as they were released after that. Love, love, love them. I keep telling myself to try out some of his adult fiction, but just haven’t gotten around to it.

    • I think you’d like this book Teresa. I really must read the rest of Lem Snicket – did you see the film?

      • I bought a second-hand copy through a friend, but I’ve yet to get it from her, though. After reading Adverbs, I went hunting for The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth! Have you read other books by him, either as LS or Handler?

  4. I want to try some Daniel Handler books, definitely, but haven’t done it yet. Adverbs looks rather charming — I remember I picked it up in a bookstore and was delighted with the jacket copy where Handler says that most authors write their own jacket copy and you should remember that when you read a book that claims to be a heartbreaking masterpiece. :D:D:D

  5. This review and the comments have certainly inspired me to look out for the book. I also didn’t realise Tim Curry was now doing audiobooks, fantastic!

    • Hi Louisa, Tim Curry’s voice is just perfect for Lemony Snicket. Mind you I fell in love with his voice the moment I saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time.

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