The Reptile Room (1999) by Lemony Snicket
“If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I’m afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether.”
The Baudelaire Orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, lost everything they held dear in a massive fire which destroyed their home and killed their parents. Placed in the care of Mr. Poe, a wheezing and incompetent banker, the children are shipped off to live with their relative Montgomery Montgomery, or simply Uncle Monty.
The kind-hearted Uncle Monty is a renowned collector of snakes and houses many of them in the reptile room of his massive countryside home. He welcomes the children with open arms and takes great care to ensure that they are comfortable in their new home.
Just when the Baudelaires’ luck seems to be turning for the better, Uncle Monty’s strangely familiar new assistant, Stephano, hatches a dastardly plan against him and the orphans. The Baudelaires instantly recognise Stephano to be the cunning Count Olaf – a man after their fortune at any cost – and he’s threatened harm against the children if they tell Monty or anyone else of his true identity. The children must work together to expose Olaf and thwart his plans for their fortune.
I didn’t enjoy The Reptile Room as much as the first entry in the Unfortunate Events series, while it retains Snickett’s quirky morose style, I felt the overall narrative progression to be quite bland.
We get a short-lived ideal setting for the Baudelaire children that (surprisingly) ends before they are yet again thrown into a battle of wits against Count Olaf, the problem here being that the scenario in which it takes place is very static. Almost the entirety of the novel takes place in Monty’s house and other than in the reptile room this doesn’t afford many memorable events, in fact it’s been about a week or two since I finished the novel and I can only recall two or three major events from the entire story.
I felt The Reptile Room lacked much of the energy and plot dynamics that the first book in the series brought. The sense of diabolicalness and urgency regarding the Baudelaire’s predicament is somewhat weak this time around.
The story is just entertaining enough to finish, relying heavily on the established world and characters of the series to carry it – I feel if it was a standalone tale I would have stopped reading half-way through.
~Giuseppe Gillespie May 2022
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