It should be forbidden by law for any writer to practice the trade without owning a copy of The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey. My copy came courtesy of Sophie Blackall, illustrator extraordinaire and collector of tiny things, and I laughed and cringed with agonizing recognition all the way home from Brooklyn. Here’s how it begins:
“On November 18th of alternate years, Mr Earbrass begins writing ‘his new novel.’ Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply, but his mind will keep reverting to the last biscuit on the plate.”
Speaking as someone whose mind is almost constantly reverting to the last biscuit on the plate, I knew instantly I was in the hands of a man who knew his stuff. Needless to say, Mr Earbrass’ publishers (Scuffle and Dustcough) get the cover hideously wrong (“On any book it would be ugly, vulgar and illegible. On his book it would be these, and also disastrously wrong.“) And of course that awful panic that sets in 3/4 of the way through each book: “He now sees TUH for what it is. Dreadful, dreadful, DREADFUL. He must be mad to go on enduring the unexquisite agony of writing when it all turns out drivel.”Sometimes I read it and laugh till I cry. Or vice versa.
This is a very short book, so I’ll make this a very short post.
Thank you, Sophie. Thank you, Mr Gorey.