All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

A Series of Inappropriate Events: All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

All The Dirty Parts is a short, sharp novel about teenage desire from Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. It charts the inner thoughts—mostly dirty, as the title promises—of a high school boy who is gaining a reputation, or so people warn him. Cole is obsessed with sex and has slept with a number of girls, and described them all to his best friend Alec, but when things with this best friend move in a new direction and then new girl Grisaille takes over his focus, Cole finds out things aren’t as simple as he’d made them out to be.

Handler writes in a distinctive style, giving Cole a clear voice, and the whole novel is written in tiny snippets, like thoughts jumping back and forth. He takes the conversational narration of Holden Caulfield, the frank and explicit content of Bret Easton Ellis, and his own serious handling of young people’s thoughts and realities that will be recognisable to fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events, and creates a brash novel with a main character who seems all too typical. Everything is sketched lightly and the novel’s pace is quick, making it easy to consume in one sitting, and the ending leaves the kind of ambiguity found in teenage life, unsure what will happen next.

All The Dirty Parts is not for everyone. It is blunt, it talks extensively about teenagers having and thinking about sex, and it does with a narrator who is no simple hero. Some readers will find it uncomfortable; others will find Cole too unlikeable, or too honest a teenage boy. However, what Handler recognises is that teenagers will always consume media like this—maybe by discovering cult adult novels with famously explicit content, or through film and TV, or fanfiction, or otherwise. By writing a novel that appeals to both a sense of relatable content and a desire for that which feels shocking or exciting, he is depicting teenagers in a way that could be insightful to both them and adults, whilst also being entertaining.