The Austere Academy is the fifth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and was published in 2000 by HarperCollins.
Genre: Children’s, Mystery
If you are looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent and resourceful children, and you might expect that they would do very well at school. Don’t. For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives.
Truth be told, within the chapters that make up this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, comprehensive exams, violin recitals, S.O.R.E., and the metric system.
It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and writing the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night’s sleep. In that case, you should probably choose some other book.
With all due respect,
“Move, cakesniffers!” the rude, violent, and filthy little girl said as she dashed by them again.
“What does ‘cakesniffers’ mean?” Violet murmured to Klaus, who had an enormous vocabulary from all his reading.
“I don’t know,” Klaus admitted, “but it doesn’t sound very nice.”
“What a charming word that is,” Mr. Poe said. “Cakesniffers. I don’t know what it means, but it reminds me of pastry.”
“I’m Violet Baudelaire,” said Violet Baudelaire, “and this is my brother, Klaus, and our baby sister, Sunny.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” said the boy. “My name is Duncan Quagmire, and this is my sister, Isadora. And the girl who was yelling at you, I’m sorry to say, was Carmelita Spats.”
“Read the Baudelaires the poem you wrote about her,” Duncan said to his sister.
“You write poetry?” Klaus asked. He had read a lot about poets but had never met one.
‘Just a little bit,” Isadora said modestly. “I write poems down in this notebook. It’s an interest of mine.”
“Sappho!” Sunny shrieked, which meant something like “I’d be very pleased to hear a poem of yours!”
“Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make—bomb, for instance, or strawberry shortcake—if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, on morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.”
“For Beatrice—You will always be in my heart, in my mind, and in your grave.”
Recommended Age Range: 10+
What I Liked:
Enter the two Quagmire triplets, Duncan and Isadora! Enter (finally) the main plot of the series: who or what is V.F.D.? How does this relate to Count Olaf? Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a wild, confusing ride from here on out…
Literary (and other) references: Isadora, Duncan, Prufrock, Nero, Genghis, “Sappho!”
Question: He’s always called Vice Principal Nero. Where is the Principal?
Also, Olaf’s plan in this one is actually very good. It always tends to be something that involves adopting the Baudelaire children and is usually pretty easy to see through or guess, but this one is not clear-cut at all.
Why in the world would anyway send their child to Prufrock Prep? It’s not only a terrible education, it’s also simply a terrible place run by someone who acts like a ten-year-old. Oh, wait…useless adults!
What I Didn’t Like:
Vice Principal Nero is very annoying (“Vice Principal Nero is very annoying!”).
Poor Duncan and Isadora…you deserve better than just to act as MacGuffins. At least you’re not nearly as intriguing/frustrating/disappointing as another MacGuffin will be…but I’m getting ahead of myself, sorry.
People/Places/Things to Keep in Mind (spoilers):
-unfortunately, Nero, and to a greater extent, Carmelita Spats
-the Quagmire Triplets
-I know I said I wouldn’t repeat, but Snicket diverges more and more into tales about Beatrice in the text, so keep in mind the triptych What Happened to Beatrice as well as Snicket’s story about the masquerade ball
The back of Olaf’s car has a fish bumper sticker, referencing The Ersatz Elevator.
The Austere Academy introduces the main mystery of the series: V.F.D. It also introduces a few more characters that are important in some way to the plot and so stands as an integral part of the series. It’s definitely a lot better than the mediocre The Miserable Mill that came before.
Coming Up Next: The Ersatz Elevator