Amphigorey: 15 mid-century stories by the macabre genius Edward Gorey

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A cute cat wearing a scarf on the front cover, ABAB rhyming schemes, an amusing title that rolls off the tongue … yes, to the naked eye Amphigorey: Fifteen Books seems like the perfect book of books to calm a troubled mind before sleeping. But do not – I repeat, do not – make this mistake. Within its pages you'll read of tortured authors, bedevilled nuns and regretful suicides. Better to take your chances with the nightmares.

A key inspiration for John Kenn Mortensen's Sticky Monsters and Tim Burton's entire catalogue, Edward Gorey blends the childish and macabre to create tales that are by turns moody and hilarious, unnerving one moment, delightful the next. In The Gashlycrumb Tinies (a tale of "moral instruction") we read of doomed children, with one for every letter of the alphabet: W is for Winnie embedded in ice, X is for Xerces devoured by mice. Things only get darker in The Fatal Lozenge: "The Journalist surveys the slaughter, the best in years without a doubt." Gorey is a coy storyteller. With ambiguous black and white sketches and suggestive prose, he makes sure that the real horror isn't taking place on the page but in our mind's eye.

There are a handful of stories in this volume suitable for younger readers (The Bug Book and The Doubtful Guest are morose yet essentially harmless) but much of Amphigorey is aimed at an older audience, with rhyming couplets about Fetishists, Xenophobes and child-luring Proctors. And, of course, my favorite story title ever, The Curious Sofa: a Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary. Although originally published in the 1950s and 60s, there are lines in these stories that are outrageous even by today's standards. Perfect for Tim Burton fans, Lemony Snicket graduates, and Addams Family enthusiasts. Go on. Let the nightmares in.

– Damien McLaughlin

Amphigorey: Fifteen Stories

by Edward Gorey

G.P. Putnam's Sons

1980, 192 pages, 8.1 x 11 x 0.5 inches (paperback)

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