Edward Gorey,
Amphigorey Again
(Harcourt, 2006)

Edward Gorey, New England's master of subtle horror and understated eccentricities, doodled his last doodle, penned his last verse and sketched his last sketch in 2000. But some of his work still remained to be discovered -- that is, until unearthed and bound in Amphigorey Again, his latest (and quite likely last) volume of uncollected and previously unpublished work.

Reportedly a cheerful man, if somewhat reclusive, Gorey reflected a more dour, often dire outlook in his art. His characters tended towards an unsettled, vaguely worried lot -- and no wonder, as they often ended badly. (For a clear, but brief example of this morbid fascination, take a look at The Gashlycrumb Tinies , his fatal alphabet primer.)

Here, Gorey's imagination runs free. The opening piece -- a brief verse and drab portrait -- reads simply thus: Frivolity, at the edge of a Moral Swamp, hears Hymn-Singing in the Distance and dons the Galoshes of Remorse. How perfectly evocative and bewildering!

There are 50 small sketches of a smiling, oddly postured cat. Grim doings are afoot at the annual charity fete at Backwater Hall. A single page celebrates the merits of "The Universal Solvent." Advice is tendered, dance is encapsulated. There's an endless tide of white sauce. A Christmas haunting, and an international gang of wallpaper thieves. Neglected murderesses. And entire stories unfold in the space of an alphabet. Witness:

Alarming behaviour. Corpse. Detective enters. Fearful glances. Helpful irrelevancies. Jitters. Knitting. Likely motives. Notable omissions. Pointed questions. Reluctance. Subtle trap. Unmasked villain. Who? Extenuation yields zero.

And that's a wrap. If the story alone seems lacking, Gorey's 15 one-panel illustrations fill in the gaps.

This big book of Gorey concludes with two unfinished works, "La Malle Saignante," a bilingual serial pastiche that is abruptly cut off, and "The Izzard Book," an illustrated homage to the letter Z that fades into sketches.

Everything of course is accompanied by Gorey's tidy, careful, expressive art. Mostly black and white, the work features countless textures and shades of grey. The color, when included, is mostly drab and moody. His characters, as previously noted, are often tense and unhappy people, bearing the pained look of a bellyache.

Unless some miraculous collection of unknown work is discovered, Amphigorey Again is Gorey's last volume of new work. It is a vast and fulfilling piece of work, a portable museum of his quirky genius.

by Tom Knapp
25 November 2006

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