‘The Basic Eight’ by Daniel Handler

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I don’t usually read books that I think will have too much second-hand anxiety in them- by that I mean the uneasy feeling you get when everything starts to go horribly wrong for the protagonist- but I made an exception for this, as I wanted to sample Handler’s work beyond the Series of Unfortunate Events books (which he wrote as Lemony Snicket). This was his debut novel for adults, so seemed like a good place to start.

Told from the point of view of Flan, a high school senior in San Fransisco, the book follows her pretentious clique as their absinthe-laced escapades grow increasingly dark.

The Basic Eight is one of the most involving books I’ve read for ages, mostly due to the very recognisable voice of the narrator. In general I thought Handler did a really good job of putting the reader right inside her head. Why is it that some of the most realistic depictions of teenage girls are written by middle-aged men (e.g Ghost World)? I’d start off reading it at a normal speed, but I always ended up devouring the words ridiculously fast in an effort to ‘keep up’ with the almost stream-of-consciousness writing style.

It sounds cheesy, but it really did make me feel like I had to keep reading.

Personally, I found the constant mentions of grammar (which definitely reminded me of SOUE) slightly irritating, and I didn’t really see what they added to the book. They were often included at tense moments, where they seemed awkwardly out of place, and broke up the otherwise fast-paced rhythm of the story. Despite that, the writing style was good overall, especially the descriptions of the hazy yet vivid absinthe parties.

There’s one major problem I have with the book: the twist. I thought it was predictable, unimaginative, and a complete cliche. It made me groan inwardly. Frankly, a bit of a let down compared to how much I liked the rest of it. I almost wish I’d done what Lemony Snicket constantly urges readers to do in SOUE; put down the book a few chapters from the end so as to avoid disappointment.

Aside from that, though, I really enjoyed reading it and recommend it if you’re looking to read something dark, exhilarating and smart. Just ignore the last bit.

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