We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates failed to live up to its potential.

Daniel Handler notes in the foreword that he wanted to avoid writing a “romp”. It seems that he tried to take his subject so seriously that in doing so, it veered off course into straight up bizarre. The plot is far from as fun as it could have been – it’s hard to take the premise of a disenfranchised teenage girl turning to a life of piracy and make it disappointing, but dammit Handler managed it.

Look, I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events with all my heart and soul, but I wasn’t expecting Lemony Snicket here. I remember struggling with but ultimately enjoying The Basic Eight years ago, and while I don’t recall a single element of Adverbs, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that too. But We Are Pirates is just so frustrating, because if there’s one thing Handler can do, it’s write beautifully. And he does that here too.

The plot tries to adhere so strictly to realism that it becomes ridiculous. In attempting to anchor events firmly in the modern day, Handler only succeeds in casting the reader further adrift. Protagonist Gwen is initially relateable, but her actions as the novel progresses make her seem less and less real, an increasingly a flat fiction. Her father Phil could easily have been cut from the novel entirely at no great loss, halving the already slim length.

I think part of the reason I’m so frustrated is because of how well Handler can write. He has so much talent and potential, and then along comes a project like this that squanders it almost entirely.

I would love to read this premise written by almost anyone else, because it’s such an awesome idea. In Handler’s hands though, it’s wasted.

Sincere thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

[Read from 5-9 September 2016]

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