The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Posted July 22, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning

by Lemony Snicket

Series: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
Publisher: Scholastic Press on September 30, 1999
Genre: Humor, Mystery
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Dear Reader,

I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket


I’m not sure if it was the audiobook recording, or just a lack of memory, but this book is a lot more grim and horrible than I remembered.

And yes, I know, Lemony Snicket warns you in the blurb.  In the first words of the first chapter.  It’s there out in the open that this isn’t a happy book about butterflies and kittens, but I had somehow forgotten the sheer level of child abuse in this book?

Because I watched the Netflix series recently enough to have that fresh in my mind, I do remember that the rest of the series is a little less disturbing on this level, but I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed or at least internalized how abusive Count Olaf is to these kids.  He’s set up to be a villain, and oh yes, he is villainous.  From the way he treats the children like servants and refuses to provide simple resources for them like more than one bed, to the physical abuse, to the extreme amount of emotional abuse.

It’s just.

Not good.

And I know that on some level, the series is about these children securing their own liberation and taking down this horrible syndicate, but also from a completely different perspective, Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler has made a fortune on a series about children being subjected to cruelty and incompetence that would irreversibly scar them for the rest of their lives.  The abuse is sickening, and the gaslighting and emotional abuse Olaf creates is … just… horrible.  And despite having read these before, despite knowing this, it never really sunk in until I listened to the audiobook.

Tim Curry’s reading is dark and unforgiving.  Olaf isn’t a bumbling villain like I’ve always pictured him – he is sharp and cruel and malicious. From a very technical perspective, the audiobook (even though it’s a full cast) isn’t great, because the volume leveling on the sound effects and music makes it loud enough to distract (and sometimes cover) narration.  But if you wanted a dark reading of this series, you’ve got it in Tim Curry.

I’m having a difficult time reckoning my feelings about this book.  I remember reading them growing up, and I know why Olaf is painted the way he is.  You need to hate him.  But I’m not sure I can forgive this first book for the way it behaves toward Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.  I’m just… torn, disappointed, and a little horrified.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★ 1.2
Personal Enjoyment:

Harmful Behavior: Racism, Sexism.

To offset Daniel Handler’s harmful behavior, I have donated $13.99 to WriteGirl.  This is the current cost (7/15/2020) of a hardcover copy of The Bad Beginning from Barnes & Noble.


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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2 responses to “The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

    • Amber

      They do tend to go on and on. When I was younger and they were first coming out, I didn’t even read through the full series. Honestly, it was the Netflix series that has me coming back in curiosity! Neil Patrick Harris’ performance was outstanding.