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on 2 January 2005
The Basic Eight is not a book to be read lightly. Under no circumstances should anyone be tempted into reading this tale by Mr Handler by the presumption that it will bear a resemblance to those lovely children's stories he writes as Mr Snicket. While his famous Unfortunate Events stories are known for their rare darkness in tales aimed at minors, The Basic Eight comes from a place far more fundamentally dark and disturbing. The Basic Eight is one of those rare and delightful books that requires the reader to invest in the text and to give as well as, possibly as *much* as to take away from it.
The plot of the story revolves around high school student Flannery Culp and her closest friends "the Basic Eight". Narrated from Flannery's point of view, readers are shown the hardships of teenage life over a period barely longer than a month. This short space of time is enough for Flannery's entire life to be torn apart; by boyfriends and unrequited love; by betrayals and overly amorous teachers; by inept psychologists and by murder.
The voice that Handler gives Flannery is unique and potentially grating. Intellectual poetry and drama loving, grammatically obsessed narrators do not an easy read make, yet for some reason Flannery comes across as a gripping character, and despite her many flaws she is an entirely fascinating heroine.
The real crux of the story comes in the form of a colossal twist in the last few pages. It is the sort of twist likely to leave some readers feeling cheated, yet it is hard not to marvel at the sheer hugeness of it. A re-read is highly recommended as spotting the many clues pointing to the outcome leads to a much greater appreciation of Handler's skill.
Overall, The Basic Eight is a book that should be read with care and time; by a reader not expecting fluffy entertainment, but instead enjoyment that must be earned through giving the text and it's narrator the attention they deserve. A Series of Unfortunate Events it is not, yet brilliant it most undoubtedly is.
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on 6 December 2012
A quick admission; I love books about rich kids in private prep schools. I don't know why but they are just a huge guilty pleasure for me, throw in some murder like this one does, and I will surely find myself having a good time.
This one features a pretentious 'it clique' who refer to themselves as 'The Basic Eight', going about their lives, planning dinner parties, hosting plays and partaking in the odd absinthe induced murder.

In all honesty I wasn't expecting the novel to be so smartly written, and the self-referential style of someone re-writing their diary as they read through the events in the present makes for an interesting insight into the character. The narrator has a habit of pointing out certain bits of important information but can also be untrustworthy in her descriptions leading you to wonder if what is being described is the actual truth, or just her version of it. The characters while caricatures all stand out in that over the top, comedic way, and the confused, delirious absinthe party chapters are definitely a highlight of the book.

Why have I only given this three stars then if I seemed to like it so much? That would be the twist. The twist that is so obvious it barely even deserves the word. The twist that I suspected in the first fifty pages and thought so cliché it couldn't be true. The twist that makes me roll my eyes.

For such a smart novel, the twist is just far too predictable to the point where I felt they didn't even need it. Overall though, an entertaining read that I would love to see an over the top, 'Heathers' style movie version of.
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on 30 January 2005
I'm 17 and have read many books, but no book I have read can match The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler as the most gripping, intense and moving account of a misunderstood teenager in american society. The narrative structure is clever, the characters expertly drawn, but above all the greatness of this book comes from the narration through the eyes of the witty, sarcastic, unhinged, but above all teenaged Flannery. It just completely appealed to myself as a teenager, though this wont stop older or slightly younger (not too young - you wont get important parts of the book) enjoying it.
I had to read it almost all in one sitting as it gripped me and after reading I thought about it so much that I had to pick up some rubbish book to take my mind off The Basic Eight. The end, following the dramatic and emotional events of 'October 31st' ends on a sad and poetic note, the poetic descriptive qualities of which are present through Handler's amazing authorship. It's one of the greatest coming of age books, ranking up there with Catcher In The Rye - but in my view, better. Get this book!
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on 10 January 2003
I was asked to read this book on a recomendation from a friend and I didn't expect to enjoy it. However, Handler's insight into the cliques that inevitably form in high school is a fascinating read. High school is a place where children are most commonly influenced and Handler shows this 'coming of age' in a dark, yet witty style. I read this book in a day and I wanted to read it all over again once i'd finished. I find that quite rare. Handler's Basic Eight is never dull, with twists and turns at every chapter's end. I would advise everyone to read this book!
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on 11 October 2004
Not since the days of Evelyn Waugh has there been such a perfect pastiche.
For all you fans of Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' (And I am one of them) read this as an antidote to all her classical allusionos and pretentious ponderings
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on 28 March 2004
I'm a long time fan of Lemony Snicket and his children series so naturally I picked up Handler's The Basic Eight. I was expecting to see the same mock overtones that you notice in the darkly funny children's series. While we do get the dark humor his style is extemely different. Unlike most readers who expected to see some rendition of: "A word which here means...", I was delightfully surprised to find a great new writing style. Handler brillaintly captures the teen angst and misguided love that all of us have expeirenced. The book (in case you were wondering) is about Flannery Culp, a young misguided teenager who is in prison for killing a certain Adam State. Flannery is the leader of the infamous, 'Basic Eight,' who took part in Flannery's murder. The book is written in a sort of fragmented diary entry as she recounts the events that led up to and after the brutal murder of Adam State. Written with great wit and humor Handler composes a satire that's a must read.
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on 9 July 1999
The New Yorker called this one of the best first novels of the year, and I wholeheartedly agree. I read this book awhile ago, and I've been watching, with amusement, the love-hate relationship that people are having with it on this site. What seems clear is that some people are completely misunderstanding this novel. To call it shallow, silly and stupid is to insult the narrator, not the book. I think Handler does a splendid job of hiding a gripping story in between the lines of his character's diary--a character who is, after all, a high school girl, and it needs to be read twice, not because it's William Shakespeare but because there's a twist ending which makes you go back and see how well the author planned the whole thing out. This novel isn't for everyone--only for people intelligent and engaged enough to tell the narrator from the author. (And no, just for the record, I'm not the author's friend, agent, whatever...)
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on 12 December 2001
Daniel Handler's Basic Eight, tells of an elitist group of High School kids, who's activities, language and general existence may seem oddly familiar if you are a keen cinema goer. It is very easy to visualise this book and when you do, it will remind you of many a teen-murder film, such as Heathers or Scream with a bit of Clueless thrown in for good measure.
It has a very black humour and perfectly epitomises the 'phoneyness' and 'cliqueyness' of those tiresome adolescents that are stereotyped on the silver screen.
With references to popular music and television, this book satirises American culture in a witty way without naming names (the references to Oprah Winfrey are less than subtle, but very amusing). The main character Flannery Culp will no doubt remind the reader of a female Holden Caulfield (who cannot handle her alcohol or her unrequited love), but she perfectly sums up that horrible picture we are given of the American teenager.
I would recommend this book, not because it is outstanding, but because it is different. It is a very brave and unique interpretation of analysing what has gone wrong with the American teen culture. Too much money, not enough parents and unrequited love with deadly consequences.
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on 30 May 1999
you know it contains a huge amount of truth. Based on San Francisco's famous (infamous?) high school, Lowell, Handler has managed to do justice to the academic magnet school in describing its oddities and attitudes towards its students.
The story itself is extremely well written. Even though Handler lets the reader in on the ending in the begining of Flannery Culp's journal, the story is full of twists and turns. You'll need to clear your whole schedule for the day because the "Basic Eight" is not a book you'll want to put down before you've finished!
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on 6 April 1999
The dust jacket of the book is lame, but go get your friend to buy it & borrow it from her. This book is fun; a great summer read for anyone between the ages of 15-22. I choked on some of the passages because they were almost identical to what I went though or how I felt or what I actually said back in high school. At times I felt corny reading this book, but I think that's my issue. If you want to read an out-of-this-world awesome book that is funny, smart, wicked, contemporary & memorable, pick up "Youth In Revolt" by C.D. Payne.
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