Thursday, 10 September 2015

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler Review

Spoilers, I guess, but unless you’re obligated to read/review it like me because you foolishly clicked “request” on Netgalley - and I can’t stress this next part enough - I really would NOT bother with this tripe! 

Gwen’s a 14 year old schoolgirl who’s recently turned to shoplifting because she’s bored and lonely or something. She has crappy friends until she meets Amber, another “wayward” teen, who gets her. Together they form a ragtag group of “pirates” who decide to float around the San Francisco bay area robbing boats. Her dad, Phil, is trying to flog a radio show somewhere. 

On the edge of your seat, right? 

I’m not sure what Daniel Handler was going for in We Are Pirates and he probably didn’t either. I thought it was going to be this light-hearted romp, kinda like an indie movie, and it started out that way and then went way off the reservation two-thirds in. 

Gwen’s pirate story plays out like an average indie movie. She and Amber become besties, they rope in a senile old codger called Errol and his minder, along with a boy who likes Gwen but whom Gwen doesn’t like, and they start robbing boats. It’s cute if a bit weird - I mean, where does it go? And then - MASSIVE TONAL SHIFT - they start hacking up people. Not just murdering them but butchering them, cutting up their bodies. What. The. Duck. 

Where did that come from and why stick that in the last quarter of the novel? I didn’t like Gwen but I didn’t think she was despicable up until that point and then I hated her. I hated the fact that she doesn’t even pay for her crimes and that her kiddie plans to be a pirate descended into nightmarish evil whatthefuckery for no reason. I’m not against violence in stories but it was completely inappropriate for this one particularly for how it was written up to that point. I just don’t know what Handler was going for at all. 

The other story is Gwen’s dad, Phil, which isn’t just boring, it’s also completely pointless. He flies out to LA or somewhere to pitch a radio show with his hot assistant. They get there, it’s unclear whether they hook up in the hotel, is about to do the pitch and then he finds out Gwen’s run off, so he has to go back and look for her. He doesn’t help and Gwen eventually shows up by herself. 

Really - what was the point of Phil at all? His storyline is IRRELEVANT. In every conceivable way, it doesn’t matter. He had “filler” written all over him. What a shitty storyteller Handler is! 

The characters are awful, the narrative is all over the shop, it’s not funny, it’s not interesting, who knows what we were supposed to take away from the novel - every aspect of We Are Pirates stinks! 

I read Handler’s earlier novel Adverbs several years ago and couldn’t remember a thing about it except it had a cool comics-like cover. Now I know why I forgot - I must’ve blocked out the sheer awfulness of that book! If I ever read another Daniel Handler book again it’ll be too soon. A skull and crossbones is suitable for this book’s cover - it’s toxic.

We Are Pirates


  1. Maybe the title is literal, as Handler just stole your reading time

  2. Maybe the title is literal, as Handler just stole your reading time