What was already a dreadful and upsetting book about three orphans enduring hardships has a new dreadful and upsetting layer of an author enduring the hardship of rereading his own work.
First edition, signed on the front flyleaf: “D. H. who can’t imagine why he agreed to do this.” One of the first of the multitudinous annotations in Handler’s book is on the copyright page—and the copyright is owned by Mr. Snicket: “Long, dull argument with a lawyer about this being possible.” But he doesn’t get as far as the dedication page—“To Beatrice”—before he is very uncomfortable: “Oh dear this is already much more than I am prepared to explain, or at least notate. Dante. Death. Romantic history. Surely you know what I’m talking about.” Chapter One elicits another: “Oh, no. I have to read the thing. Why did I agree to do this.” But that grumpy mood carries him energetically and productively throughout the entire book, and many second thoughts along the way (“Egad! The horror!”). The phrase “needs a little work” prompts him to write: “my feeling about the entire enterprise.” “Is this a noble exercise, to re-read one’s own work? And comment on it? A curse to myself for agreeing, and upon anyone who makes this public.” He identifies several “stolen” lines. But it’s not all bad. At the close of chapter two he recalls how he ‘worked and worked on the end of this chapter. I still remember how good it felt to work on something even if I’m not impressed with the results.” “A piece of scrap paper” he tells us, is “my favorite thing in childhood and now.” We learn that Samuel Beckett – “Watt in particular” – as well as Agatha Christie were important influences. Re-reading the book may have been painful for Handler, but reading his annotations is a joy.
SNICKET, Lemony (Daniel Handler) (b. 1970). A Series of Unfortunate Events. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. 8°. Original pictorial boards.