The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler is about a teenager named Flannery Culp who murdered her classmate. The story presents itself in the form of Flannery’s revised journal that she wants to publish. It shows her life with her group of friends (known as ‘the basic eight’), and the events leading up to the murder. The book also shows the media sensation the murder caused with dialogue from talk shows. Flannery constantly claims that the media is inaccurate. However, she proves herself to be an unreliable narrator.
I was excited to read The Basic Eight because the premise sounded interesting. Well, it turned out to be a great book. I enjoyed reading the point of view of the funny and somewhat pretentious Flannery.
I also liked how the book tackled media sensationalism. Throughout the story, we see people in the media using Flannery’s case to push their religious and political agendas and spread paranoia about the lives of teenagers. A lot of the blame gets put on the alcohol abuse and the sexual activity of the group. Not to mention the wild claims of Satanism; the basic eight get accused of being a satanic cult.
The satanic cult claim is shown to be ridiculous since it’s based on vague details. Instead, Flannery’s action was more or less a crime of passion and becomes distorted as something more by the media. Flannery was the one involved in the actual killing while her friends attempted to help her cover it up. It’s always a good lesson to show people how the media twists things.
The book isn’t some suspenseful crime thriller, I should mention. Flannery’s victim is causally revealed early in the book as her crush Adam. A guy who at first doesn’t give her much attention but then later appears to be playing with her emotions. Eventually, it’s easy to tell why he becomes her victim.
What the build-up really leads to is the major details of the murder – and there’s a lot that takes place before then. Sometimes I did feel the story dragged in places but overall I think the appeal of the book comes from being inside the narrator’s head, and some of the bizarre events that take place beforehand, rather than suspense.
As for humor, which is a selling point for the book, there were some pretty funny parts. One that stands out is when Flannery is hitting people with a baguette at a party. For that, among many other positive traits, I will say The Basic Eight was well worth the read.