Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler
Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler)

A Review of Lemony Snicket’s “Poison for Breakfast”

A Very Unfortunate Event (A Poisoning)

“Poison for Breakfast” Book Cover
“Poison for Breakfast” Book Cover

Everyone knows that Lemony Snicket is the author behind the series of children’s books called A Series of Unfortunate Events. And just about everyone knows that Lemony Snicket is really a pen name for adult author Daniel Handler. Still, it may be surprising to know that Snicket’s/Handler’s latest turn is being marketed as a book for children that adults would be able to enjoy. That’s probably half true. Poison for Breakfast is a very adult book, though not inappropriate for children. However, many children might find this semi-autobiographical tale of philosophy and bewilderment to be rather slow, unless the children in question are a group of gifted 12-year-olds, perhaps. I will put my hand up and say that this is the first Snicket or Handler book that I have read, so I cannot compare it against Snicket’s (Handler’s) other works. However, as a fortysomething adult, I immensely enjoyed this read — even if Snicket sometimes lost me with some of his stream-of-consciousness noodlings.

Poison for Breakfast is a hard book to review because it is short (one sitting, please, Mr. Snicket) and because it meanders without too much in the way of a plot. But it goes like this: one morning, Mr. Snicket sits down to eat his breakfast consisting of …

Tea,
with honey,
a piece of toast
with cheese,
one sliced pear,
and an egg perfectly prepared

… and discovers a note on his person that indicates that what he has just eaten is poison. Shocked and dismayed, Snicket, thinking that he is near death, sets out to discover just how he has been poisoned (and if there’s anything he can do about it). So he goes on a walk to his favourite tea shop, to the beekeeper who sells him honey, to the supermarket, to the ocean, and on and on and on. All the while, Snicket muses on things that have happened to him in his not-quite-so-real life. Ultimately, the book is about what it means to live and die — and create art! That’s it, that’s all.

So this is a book about the journey, though the destination does bring a twist that is, well, as delicious as Snicket’s breakfast (without the poison). And, again, this is a highly philosophical book. Poison for Breakfast is a read that muses and muses and keeps on musing until the final page. Despite being marketed as a book for older children or teens, this is really a book for Snicket’s following of people who are parents and want to share in the whimsy of what their offspring are reading, and wouldn’t mind the snail’s pace.

I don’t think I can say very much more than that, because doing so might “give away” the book, so to speak. If I were to tell you a story about the short novel, it might be that Snicket does spend a lot of time explaining how to make eggs (there are five different ways). And, as alluded to earlier, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what Snicket/Handler is going on about — there’s a tale about going halfway to meet something but only finding oneself instead going halfway to that meeting point and then only halfway to that point (and so on) so that you never reach the destination. Not sure what the author, real or imagined, was going on about there, to be honest. So this is a book that sometimes requires careful reading, and — I hope I’m not repeating myself here — I’m not too sure there are a lot of kids out there in today’s social media/“everything at a push of a button landscape” who will have the patience to read this molasses-paced 150-ish page book, let alone get out of the first chapter!

I thought I’d be clever and write this review in the style of Snicket/Handler’s book. However, when I sat down to do so, I found myself just complaining about my life and not having the morbid sense of humour that the author does. I can’t make the page sing like Snicket can, meaning that he is a consummate author. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s a genius at it. Me? I could only sit at my laptop computer and weep as the words marched across the screen. I thought, too, that maybe I could tell you a story about something that happened to me recently, but all of the things I can think of are completely embarrassing. Speaking of which, Snicket recalls being face down in the dirt in Poison for Breakfast at one point, and how embarrassing the situation was for him. If anything, Snicket (or Handler) is an honest egg. That’s a rarity in art — there’s no subterfuge or any sort of pretense (though some may be put off by the rather poetic writing style and stories about literature). It’s better than what I’m willing to share.

In any event, I did enjoy the book, even if it’s a novel about nothing and everything. No matter what age you are, and depending on your disposition to slightly challenging works of philosophy, add Poison for Breakfast to your menu of things to read. It’s a doozy of a book and will certainly make you think, and laugh, and sigh, and all of the things a good work of art will make you do. I can’t believe that I hadn’t encountered the work of this fabulous fictitious author before, but, one thing’s for sure, I sure hope he writes more books like this because while Poison for Breakfast may be an, ahem!, acquired taste, it’ll leave you hungry for sloppy seconds. Burp!

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will be published by Penguin Random House Canada on August 31, 2021.

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Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.