Shut up, it’s not cheating. We may be days away from the end of 2009 and my aimed-for 52 books, but including these 4 little titles in one post is due to their interconnectedness, not because I’m scrambling to make up numbers. If I really wanted to cheat I would have sat down this morning with my full english and made my way through the Mr Men backlist. Done. 52 books sorted. Re-reading Mr Bump would have been immensely enjoyable. But I am not cheating. Just because they’re short and have pictures, don’t mean they aint books worth talking about.
So there I am plonking away some time in a colleague’s office when I come across our first specimen: The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey. It’s an ABC book. That is each page progresses you through the alphabet by focusing its story on a letter and accompanying it with a divine illustration. The alternative title for this story is After the Outing and we hear of 26 ill-fated children (I like to think of them as orphans) and their awful demises. So we start with ‘A is for Amy who fell down the stairs’ and end with ‘Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin’. Roundabouts the middle we have my favourite: ‘N is for Neville who died of ennui’. Ennui! After lounging on my colleague’s desk to gobble up this dark, hilarious tale, and reading out loud from its pages to anyone who dared walk by, it became my mission to read and own everything of Mr Gorey’s that I could get my hands on. And so I started my mission with another alphabetical title called The Glorious Nosebleed and an odd little Christmas fable, The Haunted Tea-cosy. In Nosebleed we sail through illustrations focused on adverbs. Yep, adverbs. That most overused grammatical device (and most incorrectly used?). Thus ‘She knitted mufflers Endlessly’ and ‘He exposed himself Lewdly’ (how else does one expose oneself?). A less connected collection but still a delight in its morbid, clever, adult concoction. And though not my flavour of yuletide, Tea-cosy is, as the subtitle suggests, ‘a dispirited and distasteful diversion for Christmas’ and makes me want to be able to shrink like Alice and climb into Mr Gorey’s imagination. I’m abuzz with the discovery of a new author. I’m doing google searches and purchasing backlists on blind faith that I will adore them. Don’t you just love that feeling?
Who was Edward Gorey? These folk can tell you.
And amongst the insanity of Christmas preparation I found the perfect little book for a friend and decided it was also a perfect little book for me. After all, Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice are two of my favourite movies, why wouldn’t I like a book of illustrated ‘stories’ by Tim Burton? Although in this case it was the illustrations and ‘concepts’ I enjoyed rather than the tales – odd rhymes not totally realised and perhaps felt needed to ‘fill out’ the pics – but maybe that’s why Mr Burton is a filmmaker and not an author.
Still, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other stories is a fun, thought-provoking diversion and it sits well and happily with the Gorey creations. Macabre and fascinating, imaginative, childlike yet completely adult, funny in their awesome moroseness and creepiness. There is something concurrently delightful and ‘off’ about the images on all these pages. It’s like you have been let in on a secret, like you have been acknowledged as one who will understand this odd world we live in and the even odder world in many of our heads. The Burton stories may be slightly squeamier than Gorey’s though they lack a certain subtlety infused in his predecessor’s work. Mind you, if Mr Gorey had tried to make movies, perhaps they wouldn’t have been as perfect as his books?