Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ours is a Hostile World: On Lemony Snicket's "The Hostile Hospital"

I hope I gave Mr. Snicket justice here =D Another project in school.

Lemony Snicket
The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8)
HarperCollins Publishers

Dear Reader,

Before you throw this awful book to the ground and run as far away from it as possible, you should probably know why. This book is the only one which describes every last detail of the Baudelaire children’s miserable stay at Heimlich Hospital, which makes it one of the most dreadful books in the world.

Of course, not even such a blurb would deter readers both young and old from flipping the pages of each book in the phenomenal A Series of Unfortunate Events (SUE in the paragraphs to follow). Even when I knew all along that this “tridecalogy”—a word which here means “a thirteen-book series”—by Daniel Handler, err, Lemony Snicket  features a downright unfortunate over-all plot, it has never been unfortunate in capturing my bookworm’s heart, though I must admit that I had only been able to read two of the thirteen books, thanks to my illustrator uncle who gave them to me as belated Christmas gifts.

My two books are the eighth and ninth in the series, the latter the first SUE book given to me—and the first Lemony Snicket book to be included in my mental Favorite Books List. Unfortunately though, some pages from the ninth book, The Carnivorous Carnival, were ripped off by my classmate’s younger sibling when I lent it to her. So for this review, I will be discussing the eighth book, The Hostile Hospital.

Just like its fellow books in the series, The Hostile Hospital is, well, hostile in a way that all characters around Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are not who they seem to be. There is no need to elaborate the pretensions of Count Olaf and his associates to catch the Baudelaires. Lou, the shopkeeper in Last Chance General Store, were nice to them at first—he even baked muffins for them—but became one of their hot pursuers once he saw the siblings’ picture in The Daily Punctilio—a satirical symbol of today’s newspapers with its nonsense fanciful articles. The Volunteers Fighting Disease, which the siblings had thought were the organization—V. F. D.—in which their parents were once involved, and which they thought would help them find Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire, were nothing but a bunch of people whose idea of health care is giving heart-shaped balloons and singing the V. F. D. theme instead of providing quality medical assistance. All the Volunteers Fighting Disease and Hal, the employee in Heimlich Hospital’s Library of Records, were friends turned foes, as in the case of Lou. The Baudelaires had to pretend to be volunteers so they could search more about where their parents might be while on the run from Count Olaf and company; not to mention Violet becoming a “cranioectomy patient” and Klaus and Sunny posing as doctor and nurse, respectively. The book, and all the others in the series, is a continuous masquerade, with the villains in pretention so they could catch the Baudelaires easier (yet to no avail), and the Baudelaires also in pretention to escape their captors. A touch of determinism is also in the novel—nowhere is safe, and everyone and everything around you are forces you should confront lest you cease to exist in this dog-eat-dog world (or human-eat-human, but not literally though); worse, if you’re not made for survival, then you’re not for it. Good thing that the Baudelaires have made it out alive by the end of the book, although it’s kind of doubtful by the series’ end itself (Read the thirteenth book, The End, or its synopsis, like what I did, to know why).

These make me and other readers wonder if it’s a children’s book at all. I doubt that it really is, but what makes it a children’s book is that, obviously, the main characters are children, Violet being a teen, Klaus a pre-teen and Sunny a baby. And despite the dreary atmosphere of the novel, their strong brother-and-sisters bond is one shining virtue in a world where you can’t just trust anyone. Violet, Klaus and Sunny never had a fight in the book (I’m not sure about this in speaking of the other SUE novels, but it seems that they never had a fight at all), their efforts in trying to escape from Count Olaf are always united, and they would always encourage one another, which portrays their relationship as a model for siblings of today. Their determination to find their parents—and fight Count Olaf and his cohorts along the way—is also undeniably awesome, which could probably be one reason for a child reader to admire them. And hey, I almost forgot the illustrations by Brett Helquist. The book, as well as the rest in the series, has illustrations in the beginning, middle and end, each foreshadowing what might happen next. There are also smaller illustrations at the start of each chapter, except the first chapter, which also serves to foretell what the specific chapter would be all about. These help readers, especially young ones, to not only understand the story better but also to make predictions while reading the story. And these drawings are also attractive, making the book’s hold on its readers, especially, again, on the younger ones, even more powerful.

For Handler’s, err, Snicket’s dark, sarcastic humor and witty, post-modern writing style, though, the book is better suited for adolescents—or more mature audiences, whether in terms of age or of mentality. A deeper analysis of this novel would reveal a satire of today’s society. People pretend either in offense—arrogance—or in defense—survival (the latter as stated by Klaus, “We’re not villains. We’re good people. We had to do tricky things in order to save our lives”). Nothing, and no one, in the world is trustworthy; one day they are your friends, the next day they are your foes. Even news, supposed to be written or anchored by journalists who took an oath to present to the general public nothing but the truth, tell lies! In this one monster of a world, one can only help oneself. The weak, the worthless, the helpless—the minority—“should be seen and not heard”, as Esmé Squalor, disguising as Heimlich’s Hospital’s Human Resources Head, Babs, said about children (with the following paradox, “I’m an adult, so it follows that I should be heard and not seen”). This concept cannot be easily grasped by a child’s mind, but an elder reader could surely sense this. I didn’t realize it yet when I first read it, but upon re-reading it for this review more than a year later, I finally came to that conclusion.

As for me, The Hostile Hospital and the rest of the series are more than just children’s books. Though not the ideal children’s book as you may see them at first, SUE vividly, comically portrays the harsh realities of life and its effects on children and youth while still catering to the action, excitement and fun its young readers are craving for. (Maybe they’ll have a deeper analysis of it when they grow up, like what happened to me.) So, dear reader, don’t let Mr. Snicket’s blurbs or Count Olaf’s evil schemes make you think twice about picking up this brainy, brilliant pastiche of children’s literature, comedy, satire, post-modernism and naturalism from the ground, where you undoubtedly found it. It’s not so dreadful a book, after all.

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