“We Are Pirates” by Daniel Handler

This book isn’t exactly my usual type of thing — it came from the general fiction section of my local library, into which I rarely venture. But following the disappointing and scary EU referendum result, I decided on Friday that I needed to ignore reality for a while, and borrowed six books. Among them was We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler, probably known better as Lemony Snicket.

we are pirates

This was a … weird book. It was pretty much the definiton of “well, that escalated quickly”, with a dose of “what just happened” and “who is telling this story” to go along with it. In fact, I’d say there are eight main thoughts that I had while reading.

1. What’s going on? Who’s the narrator here?

The question of the narrator was one that was never entirely resolved. There’s a brief appearance from a first person narrator crashing a party some time after the events of the book, presumably. Throughout the text there are sly hints that it’s being written from the future: “at this point in history”, for example, even though it’s clearly set in our modern world.

2. Oh, okay… I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I settled into the story eventually. Figured out who everyone was (except the narrator). Wasn’t entirely sure I was digging it, but at least I knew vaguely what was going on.

3. Adventure! Wanderlust! Taking books about pirates way too literally! That sounds like fun.

I mean, I loved pirates as a kid. I adored Swallows & Amazons. I watched Pirates of the Caribbean over and over again and imagined I was Elizabeth. And I know that feeling of wanting more from life and wanting to feel free and whatnot, so I was getting into it.

4. MURDER.

What. Suddenly brutal murder being committed by teenagers. This wasn’t what I expected.

5. Well, that escalated quickly.

This got way darker than I anticipated, way faster than any book has any right to. It was kind of an abrupt change of mood, to be honest.

6. This was all a very bad idea and now everything is going terribly wrong.

Honestly, things got kind of Lord of the Flies-esque after a while, and everything seemed to be going from bad to worse. It was exciting, but not particularly hopeful. There wasn’t any sense that things were going to be resolved, and as a reader I just felt like I was watching a disaster.

7. Coincidences! Identity! Everything was connected from the beginning!

Because of course it was.

8. Well… that was a slightly depressing and existential conclusion about life and adventure.

A satirical prod at real life maybe, but also a sobering reminder that the modern world doesn’t let us be outlaws and anarchists and pirates. And a somewhat melancholic note to end on. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel after that.

This is a very weird book. Some of it’s very enjoyable and relatable. I think we’ve all wanted something more from life, something with a bit of adventure and freedom, especially as teenagers. Some of the book is funny, although other parts are freaking DARK and not for the faint-hearted.

Mostly, though, it’s just downright odd, and it’s hard to know what else one can say about it, beyond that.

Rating: ***

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