The newest offering from Lemony Snicket is a predictably strange read, if you are familiar with the author’s other works. Poison for Breakfast is a novel about bewilderment, and the reading experience will certainly leave you feeling bewildered. Bewildered is a word which here means “you don’t have any idea what is happening.” However, it will also comfort you in that funny way that truth does when you least expect it.
This novel is a mystery of sorts, which Mr. Snicket has been told is a genre many people enjoy. One ordinary morning, after finishing his (yes, the author himself is the main character) breakfast, he receives a note with the phrase, “you had poison for breakfast,” written on it. Now he must discover where the poison originated before his demise.
That is, essentially, the plot of this novel, but the author is not concerned with plot.
We follow him as he visits the tea shop, the honey vendor, and the supermarket, investigating the sources of his breakfast. Most of the pages, though, are spent on philosophical asides. These asides cover a wide variety of topics. Death is a frequent subject, but so is the way to prepare eggs (scrambled egg lovers—prepare to be roasted) and the three rules of storytelling (which he slowly realizes are only two rules). It feels like we are peaking into his wandering mind, fluttering from thought to thought, and yet it is still cohesive and thought-provoking.
This is a novel about many things, but it is primarily about death and bewilderment.
As should be unsurprising, due to the word “poison” in the title, this is a novel about death. Towards the beginning, Snicket tells many charming stories about people he once knew, ending each story with “she (or he or they) is dead now.” This emphasizes, over and over, how everyone eventually must die. He says that we’re all going to die someday, but none of us can imagine how it will happen. This is something I’ve never thought about, but it immediately rang true to me. While reading this book, this is an experience you will have over and over.
This is also a novel about bewilderment. We are all bewildered, Snicket says. Quite honestly, none of us know anything. In fact, this is why we write, to try to create some truth about the world. Despite this novel being written before COVID-19, this message resonates deeply in our present world. Feeling lost in a constant state. However, Snicket urges us to stay hopeful. Above all else, we must keep trying. We must keep pushing on. It’s still worth it. For my tired soul, this was a welcome message.
For Lemony Snicket fans, this is a must read.
For those of you who, like me, grew up reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, this is the perfect book for you. As a child, I always appreciated Snicket’s books for never shying away from the darkness in the world, darkness that was quickly becoming very real to me. He tells the uncomfortable truth–death is inescapable and there are no answers. Yet there is something comforting in the honesty.
If you are a lover of fast paced action and heavy plot, you are better off reading some other book. If, however, you want to go on a wild, philosophical ride, this novel is perfect for you.
Poison for Breakfast was released on August 31, 2021.