Amphigorey by Edward Gorey
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Edward Gorey was a strange, strange man who created odd, unclassifiable books (novels? comics? nonsense?) graced by decidedly weird illustrations. Aside from his books, his work appeared in many other places: the opening sequence of the PBS series Mystery, set designs for various theatrical productions, on lunchboxes, on the covers of other authors' books. His illustrations are generally very well suited to the works they accompany, and so even if you've never sat down with one of his books, it's easy to feel familiar with his work.
Prior to reading Amphigorey, my exposure to Gorey had been mainly to his work as an illustrator. This collection, which anthologizes fifteen different books (1953-1965), broadened my understanding and appreciation of Gorey as both a writer and an artist. It opens with The Unstrung Harp, the tale of one Mr. Earbrass' experience writing a novel, and it is better in many regards than a good three-quarters of all other books devoted to that subject. The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a macabre alphabet book, one of his many rhyming/verse works, illustrating each letter with the death of a child in a different manner. The Bug Book is the simple tale of the life of some very happy bugs, and how they deal with sudden appearance of a large and unpleasant bug. The West Wing is one of the oddest in the volume, a wordless book that may or may not have a narrative, and in which a house appears to be the central character. Taken together, the works in this collection are enjoyable, diverse, and fun, and they may challenge you to think in new ways about text and illustration, and what the relationship between the two is or ought to be.