Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Ninth: The Carnivorous Carnival [audiobook, read by Tim Curry] (HarperAudio, 2002)

The Carnivorous Carnival is the ninth book chronicling the adventures of the Baudelaire children. This review is of an audio version read by Tim Curry. Since I had never read or listened to any of the books, nor am I a particular fan of books on tape, it says a lot for this series that I was immediately captivated by the story and absolutely loved listening to Mr. Curry reading it.

It is not necessary to have read the previous eight books to enjoy this one. The new reader is seamlessly brought up to par on the storyline in a way that would not bore or annoy those who were familiar with the Baudelaires' history.

The story leaps into action with the Baudelaire siblings in the trunk of a large car being driven by their arch-enemy Count Olaf. The car is filled with an assortment of villains who are no less villainous because they are also amusing. Chief among them is Esme Squalor, described as "equally wicked, if more fashionable" than Count Olaf, and a man with hook hands who later reveals himself to be horribly prejudiced against what he, and others refer to as "freaks" -- those in the Carnival’s Freak show. In addition to being evil, Esme Squalor is consumed by her attempt to be fashionable; Tim Curry’s rendition of her affected drawl is riotously funny.

The book is fantastic without being out and out fantasy. For example, at one point the Baudelaires must disguise themselves. The two oldest children put on a large pair of pants and shirt so that they can join the carnival’s freak show as a two headed person, and Sunny disguises herself as "Chabo the Wolf Baby" by wrapping herself in one of Count Olaf’s fake beards. This is a sufficient disguise to fool the Count and his strange band of thugs. Naturally, children over six or seven are going to realize this is not possible -- yet it works well within and does not grate against the more realistic settings in other parts of the story.

These stories are written by the mysterious Lemony Snicket. The really amusing and well done Web site has an author’s page, but his face is never seen. Another Web page has an interview by Daniel Handler, referred to as Mr. Snicket’s ambassador. Lemony Snicket is a character in The Carnivorous Carnival, and I presume in the other books as well. He is the author of the mysterious and important "Snicket File," one page of which has been found by the Baudelaires, and which they believe contains clues to their parents' whereabouts.

Along with The Carnivorous Carnival, the other eight books in the series are read by Tim Curry. A good fan Web page for Tim Curry is here, and this one is also pretty good. I really cannot imagine a more perfect voice for these wordy, ironic books then the ironic voice of Mr. Curry. When I’ve listened to other books on tape, I always remained too well aware that I was listening to one person reading, sometimes in a laborious tone. When I listened to The Carnivorous Carnival, I was truly transported by a storyteller. Mr. Curry has an instantly recognizable voice for each character. I don’t know how Curry gives each of the many characters such a distinct voice but he does. His female characters somehow sound female without squeaky or overly high-pitched tones. Sunny Baudelaire relies on nonsense words which her siblings can translate to communicate and Curry’s rendition of her voice is particularly wonderful.

There is a good bit of action, and very colorful characters and scenery, but the main attraction to me was the language -- the very amusing and interesting way Lemony Snicket has written these books. The author uses unusual words and phrases and occasionally as an aside will explain some of them. I found these asides droll rather than annoying -- perhaps because of Tim Curry’s way of reading.

The pace of the story is swift but not frenetic. The tone of the book really is grim. Terrible things do happen to the Baudelaires -- over and over again. People get killed in the story -- sometimes violently, though the violence is not graphic. There is a sense of good people valiantly and possibly fruitlessly struggling against evil, disbelief and incompetence. I should imagine that the helplessness, yet continued resourcefulness, of the Baudelaires would be appealing to children who are often helpless in their relations with the adult world.

The Carnivorous Carnival was a most interesting and entertaining book with sympathetic protagonists and fascinating characters. The reading by Tim Curry could not be improved upon. The book would appeal to adults and children alike; I plan to read or listen to the rest of the series. But it may be a bit too grim for everyone’s taste.

[Andrea S. Garrett]