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Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Book Review: 'Adverbs'

Adverbs is the third book by Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket, under his own name. I haven't read the other two. I also haven't read A Series of Unfortunate Events, thinking it wiser to avoid a book that looked likely to rely on the misfortune of its main characters to get a laugh; I have never been able to enjoy books like that. Still, ever since I saw a book entitled Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorised Autobiography, I've known that Lemony Snicket had my kind of sense of humour. So when I saw Adverbs, I jumped at the chance to read a book by the same author, aimed at an adult audience.

It's a book about love: love immediately, obviously, arguably, particularly.... Each chapter is named for an adverb and reads like a self-contained short story. But as you read, you realise "Hang on, that's that other guy's ex-girlfriend, oh, and wait, that other character must be the boy we saw a few stories back, all grown up!" I'm still finding new character links when I re-read. The most moving adverb, for me, was often.

"[D]o you really love that husband?"
"[...] Often I do. Yes. Often I love him and he is always my husband."

She really does love him. You can tell. In the jumble of oddly-shaped loves in this book, to love your husband of several years often is to say that this is a pretty wonderful relationship, and a real one at that.

The story is quirky; paradoxically, this gives the writing an immediacy, a real sense of reality. It feels stranger than fiction! It isn't just the characters that recur; the recycling of images and themes in contexts that give them new meanings had all the eerieness of a good sestina. The word 'love' in this book is taken in all its complexity and contradiction without any attempt to clarify or define.

It works. It works beautifully.

1 comment:

L.L. Barkat said...

I admit that I loved the opportunity to read the Series with my kids. He is a brilliant writer, full of humor and philosophy. His word play and repetition of themes and inclusion of history... I appreciated all of it (even though I'm way above the suggested reading age).