Mr. Snicket's latest picture book, 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy, is released today.
Title:29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy Illustrator: Lisa Brown Cover:
Release Date: 11th February 2014 (Source) (McSweeney's McMullens) Details: "We are very curious about the Swinster Pharmacy. We stay up late every night wondering what sort of eerie secrets it contains. Why are there three Styrofoam heads in the windows? Who is the owner? Is it really closed on weekends? Renowned investigator Lemony Snicket has compiled 29 myths about this bewildering establishment, in the vain hope that he could help us shine some light on this enduring mystery."
I really dig the whole concept of this, in that it relies purely on mystery and curiosity. Indeed, that's a great topic for a children's book, as well as a very Snicket-esque theme. It makes me all the more sad that I probably won't get to know how this intriguing story plays out, since I am too broke to be spending money on children's picture books right now. Maybe someday.
I find that a little strange, too; perhaps the numerical aspect of the story was a later addition to the narrative. I guess if you class the myths as part of the journey, it would be rude not to begin that journey at number 1. Actually, on balance, I think that's it; it's a measure of consistency. Inconsistent numbering would be unsatisfying. Even if it does make the content slightly inconsistent with the title.
Well, if we read "myths" as something more along the lines of "stories" or "tales," then it would work, as even the statements that aren't directly about the Swinster Pharmacy are to do with the youngsters' investigation of it. "29 stories about the Swinster Pharmacy." But that doesn't sound nearly so cryptic, nor does it trip off the tongue.
Edit: Does anyone actually have it yet? It's not out in the U.K., though I've ordered it from Amazon regardless in the hope that they'll feel obliged to ship it to me.
I went to my local Barnes and Noble for it a couple of days ago but they hadn't stocked it; I suppose that's understandable for such a low-key release, but I still just decided to order it, so my copy should be arriving by next week.
Amazon just told me that my copy would be dispatching sooner than expected, so that's something. Although for some reason the promotional images appear to include quite a few of the pages... I actually saw the very last page in a preview picture somewhere.
Just got mine today-- it's fantastic! I don't know how evident it is in the sample photos, but the dustjacket is actually folded in half and can be taken off, unfolded and uncreased to show a rather sizable Swinster Pharmacy poster on one side and a map on the other. If you want to hang that or something, the cover itself is made of the same type of vinyl material as The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming and looks very nice.
As for the story itself, it's pretty eerie. I agree that the numbers were probably added after the story had been written, which not only explains the seemingly random number 29, but also the fact that only about half of the "myths" could be called that anyway. Also, I know it's a bit of a stretch, but could it be possible that this book is somehow related to ATWQ? It's this line that really caught my attention:
My copy should be coming in a few days, and I'm really looking forward to reading it now. Thanks for your review, bandit; it sounds more exciting than I expected.
As for ATWQ connections, though, I think perhaps more that it's another expression of the same preoccupation for Handler at present with lonely, strange, decaying towns. I wouldn't be surprised if it had been a supplementary volume at one point, or if Handler had considered making it such.
Making a formula out of a formality, I bring you the first in a newly-rebranded series of 667 Reviews - and what better way to start than with Lemony Snicket's latest picture book, 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy, illustrated throughout by Lisa Brown, and published by McSweeney’s McMullens.
Like the eponymous Swinster Pharmacy itself, the book is at first glance unassuming, though it soon reveals hidden depths of complexity and interest. Physically, it doesn’t have the dominating profile of Snicket and Jon Klassen’s recent The Dark, and is instead rather short and distinctively square, and thin enough to be quite unobtrusive in a shelf full of books, as the pharmacy sits on a street full of shops. But the quirky, irregular lettering and shapes on the cover and the depth of colour given to this gloomy little shop display the beginning of a rich, surprising experience, the first sign of which is contained in the dustjacket itself – which, as photographed above, can be removed and unfolded to more than twice the size to create a double-sided poster, one side a map of the town and its environs as described in the book, the other a full view of the pharmacy building itself. Book, building – both have hidden depths, and this experience is a large part of what the book is about.
Snicket’s evocative text is concise and revealing, retelling in short bursts the various stories, claims, anecdotes, eavesdropped allusions, and recollections about the pharmacy, from the perspective of two children who have become fascinated about the old place, and their perspective looks past the mundanity of what’s surely easy to dismiss as a tacky and uninteresting store and find in everything about it a mystery, something to be suspicious about. Though each of their twenty-nine myths is just a couple of lines long, they’re suggestive, evocative. They swing wildly from the commonplace to the surprisingly poetic. Snicket strings together the dull and ordinary experiences of an everyday walk down the street into an experience that does lull you into a growing sense of unease – one that compels you to admit, despite all its improbability, to the suspicions of the unnamed protagonists who dwell on the pharmacy at all hours, follow its employees, measure it by night. Is there something suspicious about the Swinster Pharmacy? Is there a mystery to be solved? I don’t know, but perhaps the mystery is itself a mystery; it is not the pharmacy’s secret that is up for debate, but whether it has one.
Snicket understands a child’s fascination with what an adult is wise or foolish enough to ignore. A Series of Unfortunate Events had a major theme of adults failing to credit children as intelligent individuals who are worth listening to, and 29 Myths is in that sense in a similar vein – but it’s Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions with which it has a stronger affiliation. The Swinster Pharmacy is cut from the same cloth as Snicket’s Stain’d-by-the-Sea – a lonely and depressing town, grey and sad, abandoned by all but its children. Snicket’s preoccupation with such settings, more haunted than populated, has to have been a common inspiration, and it’s almost tempting to suggest that 29 Myths should be part of All the Wrong Questions itself, with its gloom and fading lights, or more pertinently, its series of arsons and prowling black cats. I don’t think 29 Myths quite fits the series as a narrative, but thematically they’re twinned, the mystery of ordinary life and the mystery of its absence, as only a child’s curiosity rather than an adult’s resignation can reveal.
There’s an argument to be made that Lisa Brown is the real star of the book, however. Brown has illustrated for Snicket before in The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (perhaps the pair were introduced by Brown’s husband, Daniel Handler, who serves as Mr. Snicket’s representative), but she excels in bringing to life the half-life of the Swinster Pharmacy and the town it sits within. Her illustrations dominate each page and tower over the text, much though the text explains and links them; frequently the subtle greys and browns of brick walls and evening light fill the whole page, the drab architecture of the pharmacy astonishingly compelling in her renderings, inviting you in not for a visit but for a look, a lurk, a wonder. Her protagonists are the major splashes of colour and life on each page, their warmth contrasting against the bleakness, the concealing darkness of the pharmacy, but there are hints of something brighter everywhere, in the wrapper of a chocolate bar or a nice car by moonlight, the cover of a jokebook or a twentieth-century crime novel. Perhaps what really enriches the grey pharmacy is her depiction of it, irregular, unstable at its edges, strikingly individual in its anonymity and far more expressive than the other faces in the crowd. Snicket’s words are often underplayed, written minimalistically and tucked away in a corner in small font, but Brown seems to have limitless ability to draw from it – as does anyone. This is a book about the power of imagination.
We’ve all passed by without a second glance the odd small and unobtrusive store in the street, but Snicket and Brown encourage us to look at them again from another perspective – to find something wonderful and mysterious in what’s ordinary, to think about what makes even the most normal of places tick in its own unique way. Likewise, 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy may be a short book, but it’s worth stopping to take a look, and to wonder – and to keep on wondering, long after you’ve moved on and it has passed out of sight.
Thanks for this, Dante. Certainly this book seems to have more links with the main series that his picture books have done in the past. Might it be deliberately ambiguous whether the town is Stain'd or not?
Will the book be appearing in the UK at some point?
(Banner by Roxy.)
'The world, no matter how monstrously it may be threatened, has never been known to succumb entirely' - Lemony Snicket.