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Literature / The Basic Eight

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The Basic Eight is a 1998 novel by Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. It is told as the journal of one Flannery Culp, a highly intelligent and sarcastic teenage girl doing a life sentence in prison for murder. The premise is that she is editing her own journal from the months leading up to the murder, so that it can be published as a true-crime book.

The novel itself centres on Flannery and her group of friends, known collectively as "The Basic Eight". They are:

  • Flannery herself, a Deadpan Snarker and our Unreliable Narrator.
  • Kate Gordon, the semi-Lovable Alpha Bitch and the Queen Bee of the Basic Eight.
  • Douglas Wilde, Flan's amicably ex-boyfriend, an opera lover in a Transparent Closet.
  • Lily Chandly, a classical musician and Douglas' new girlfriend.
  • Jennifer Rose Milton, a sweet, shy girl who is so beautiful that Flan must always write out her name in full.
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  • Gabriel Gallon, the kindest boy on earth, who is in love with Flan.
  • V___, whose rich and influential parents had her name expunged from the story.
  • Natasha Hyatt, Flan's wild, hilarious vampy best friend, who is actually a figment of Flan's imagination.

Flan's victim is the boy with whom she was madly in love, Adam State. The novel opens with her love letters to him, and it goes downhill from there.

Noted for being witty and insightful, this novel mocks teenage fiction while simultaneously being the very best of it.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Amicable Exes: Flannery and Douglas are broken up by the time the story begins but remain close friends.
  • Anachronic Order: The day directly after the Halloween party is told out of order. There are 9 separate entries on November 1st. Readers can piece together the chronological order through clues in the prose.
    Flannery: I have noted them all in my journal like a careful jeweler but cannot attest to their exact sequence.
  • Analogy Backfire: Flannery struggles with these, especially when describing her night with Adam.
    Flannery: I guess I mean that if the flower of my love for Adam was being stunted by any feelings of doubt, then tonight fully fertilized my seed and allowed it to grow. That works if you don’t think about the fact that fertilizer is made of shit.
  • Arc Words: "Do something." The so-called "Baker's rule" from Mr. Baker's calculus class.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Combined with Wham Line.
    Flannery: Adam State, handsome senior, [...] was killed by our glamorous friend Natasha, and now we're all—
    Douglas: Who?
  • Asshole Victim: Adam may or may not be this, depending on how unreliable our narrator really is. Jim Carr plays this straight.
  • Author Avatar: Adam State, possibly (they both happened to be the choir teacher's assistant in high school).
  • Betty and Veronica: Gabriel and Adam, respectively.
  • Black and Nerdy: Gabriel, although of the intellectual rather than academic type.
  • Black Comedy: Gets continuously blacker over the course of the narrative.
  • Butt-Monkey: Flora Habstat is Flannery's Butt-Monkey. And also Gabriel to a lesser extent.
  • Character Overlap: Kate and her ex-boyfriend Garth are mentioned in Handler's other book, Adverbs.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The handkerchief, the red croquet mallet, the baguette.
  • Cool Teacher: Millie, Hattie Lewis and Ron Piper. Mr. Baker would be this, only Flannery is hopeless at the subject he teaches.
  • Dance of Romance: Adam and Kate, although Flan doesn't realise it's this until later.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Flannery is very much this. Other members of the Basic Eight have their moments too.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The media portrays Ron Piper as this, despite him having nothing to do with the murder.
  • Disposing of a Body: The group struggle with this after the murder.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Adam appears to be a bit of an asshole, sure, but doesn't deserve to be murdered.
    • Also, arguably Jim Carr's fate.
  • Don't Explain the Joke:
    Eleanor Tert: I was in deep denial, and I'm not talking about a river in Egypt. I said I'm not talking about a river in Egypt. Well, you probably haven't learned about it yet, but the Nile is a river in Egypt, and when I said "denial" it sounded like—well, never mind.
  • Hollywood Satanism: What the Basic Eight end up characterised as.
  • Iconic Item: Each of the Basic Eight have one, which Flan steals and hoards for reasons unknown even to her. They are:
    • Kate's navy blue sweater.
    • Douglas' hat.
    • Lily's tortoiseshell glasses.
    • V___'s silk scarf.
    • Jennifer Rose Milton's earring.
    • Gabriel's pocketknife.
    • Natasha's claw-handed nail file.
  • Imaginary Friend: Natasha.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Douglas to Lily.
  • Informed Judaism: Flan is Jewish, although this is seldom brought up.
  • Intoxication Ensues: A large part of the plot is induced by this.
  • Invisible Parents: Flan seldom ever mentions her parents.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Our narrator may not have been fully there to begin with, but her love of Adam certainly doesn't help.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Natasha could be considered a platonic version of this for Flannery.
  • Mind Screw: Just try to work out what actually happened, what Flan thought happened but didn't, what Flan didn't think happened but made up, and what Flan added later during the editing.
  • Moral Guardians: Eleanor Tert, Winnie Moprah, and the various other people who chime in after the murder occurs.
  • The Numbered Things: "The Basic Eight", Flannery's friend group consisting of 8 people.
  • Oblivious to Love: Flan to Gabriel, at first.
  • Phallic Weapon: Adam lampshades Flannery's baguette as this.
  • Red Herring: Handler labels foreshadowing and reveals the ending early in the novel, distracting the reader from the hints about the real twist ending.
    • The baguette is lampshaded as one. Later subverted as Flan uses it to pummel Adam's flailing hand.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: V___ is described as this.
  • Sadist Teacher: Jim Carr. Not only does he sleazily hit on his teaching assistants, but he also molests Flannery.